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Toronto store owners say they were beaten after forcing customer out for not wearing mask

اخبارالعرب 24-كندا:الجمعة 29 مايو 2020 11:50 صباحاً Zhao Guang Yu's face still shows faint bruising from the night a month and a half ago when, his wife says, four men attacked him in their Toronto convenience store after they forced a customer out of the store when she refused to wear a mask.

It's hard for Zhao's wife, Xue Lin, to listen to her own screams on video footage recorded that night on the surveillance camera outside their store, Levol Convenience Food Mart on Dundas Street West, just south of Kensington Market in the city's downtown.

The camera captured some of the sound of the alleged attack the night of April 15, but neither the altercation with the customer nor the one with the men can be seen on camera.

Xue says she tried to shield Zhao with her body as the men battered him against an ice cream freezer but that it didn't stop them from hitting them both.

Xue points out the bruises that are still healing on her husband Zhao's face, more than a month after she says he was beaten in their Toronto convenience store. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Minutes earlier, Xue says, the couple had forced a woman out of the store for refusing to wear a mask. The audio on the surveillance video suggests the attackers came to the store for retribution. The men can be heard saying the customer told them she was hit for "no reason." 

Xue says she felt helpless during the attack. Her mind was blank, she said, as she desperately tried to protect her husband.

"Four guys, tall guys," she said. "Of course, we can't do anything."

Toronto Police got a call about the altercation around 9:30 p.m. and say they are continuing to investigate an alleged assault against what they refer to as one staff member at the store. No arrests have been made in the case, and police would not provide a description of the suspects.

Started requiring masks before lockdown

Zhao and Xue have insisted all their customers wear a mask since early in the COVID-19 pandemic, even before the province shut down non-essential businesses in March and imposed emergency measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

A sign posted on the store's window says customers won't be let inside without a mask and that masks can be purchased inside.

Xue sees masks as critical to helping reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. Her parents live downstairs from the shop, and she says she feels a responsibility to her family and customers' health.

Public health officials have encouraged people to wear masks when they can't maintain the recommended two metres of physical distance from others as a means of protecting those close by from any potential virus droplets that leave the mouth.

Customer claimed she was attacked 'for no reason'

Xue says most of her customers willingly wear masks or buy one for $1 in the store. But the night of the attack, Xue says, a woman refused to put her mask on despite repeated requests to wear it or leave. She was laughing with another woman in the aisles, mask in hand, Xue said.

After asking several times, Xue said, she finally grabbed the woman to pull her out of the store.

The owners of Levol Convenience Food Mart required all customers to wear a mask early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, well before Canada's chief public health officer officially recommended using face coverings when physically distancing isn't possible. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Xue says the customer fought back, kicking as the couple pushed her out of the store. Outdoor security footage, shown to CBC by Xue, captured a woman saying, "Don't touch me," and then daring the store owners to strike her, saying: "Hit me," as Xue screamed at her to get out (everyone involved is out of sight in the video).

Outside the store, a woman's voice can be heard telling another person to call somebody. A sobbing woman later tells a man that store workers "attacked me for no reason."

That's when four men, regular customers she recognized, entered the store, Xue said.

To her shock, she says, they started hitting her husband.

The audio captures a man yelling, "Why did you hit her?" and shouting before Xue starts shrieking. Her husband yells in apparent agony.

A 'mountain' of bruising

The men knocked store shelves down as they beat him, Xue said. Their blows knocked her husband to the floor, despite Xue hugging him to protect him.

One man stomped on his face before they finally left.

Xue shows how she tried to 'hug' her husband to protect him, as attackers beat him against the ice cream freezer. (Laura Howells/CBC)

The next day Zhao's face was black with bruises, with one eye "like a mountain," Xue said.

"My husband stayed home [for] two weeks," she said.

He didn't want to see a doctor at the time because the hospital seemed too dangerous because of COVID-19, Xue said. 

When asked about the nature of Zhao's injuries, Toronto Police spokesperson Const. Michelle Flannery said, "victim injuries is not something we normally provide."

'We're not fighting people'

Xue said she was crying as she and her husband talked to police, she was so worried about her husband. 

"I'm going to close my store," she said she thought after the attack, sleepless and devastated that night. 

She said she woke up with pain in her back and shoulders from the blows but decided to open up the store later that day.

Zhao, left, and Xue in their store. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Weeks later, Zhao is also back to work, though he still has bruising on his face. 

An attack like this has never happened in the store before, which the couple opened in 2016, said Xue.

"We're not fighting people."

Xue says she doesn't scare easily, even while working alone at night with customers who can sometimes get difficult.

But after the attack, to avoid conflict, she says, they have been keeping the door to the shop locked in the evenings and only open it to people wearing a mask. 

'We don't want more people [to] get the virus'

Xue says she and her husband will continue to insist on masks — even if it has meant losing business during the pandemic.

"We don't want more people [to] get the virus," she said. "I reduce business? Fine. I need to do my way."

Xue says her intention is to keep her family and customers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her parents live downstairs from the shop, and she worries about transmitting the virus to them. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Xue says she has noticed more people taking precautions against COVID-19 in recent weeks, though some people still argue against the store's mask policy.

She says she usually tries to handle the situation herself before calling police but that there were two previous times that she had to grab people and call police when customers refused to leave. 

Xue says she sometimes fills simple orders for customers while they wait outside. The store also offers free gloves for customers.

"We don't want fighting," said Xue.

"If you don't like to wear a mask ... you don't need to come in. [It's] fair to other customers, fair to us."

While most customers comply with the mask policy, owner Xue says, some still argue. (Laura Howells/CBC)

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