Khawlah Noman
Khawlah Noman, 11, speaks to reporters at Pauline Johnson Junior Public School, after she told police that a man cut her hijab with scissors in Toronto, Ontario, Canada REUTERS/Chris Helgren

Police in the Canadian city of Toronto are investigating a possible hate crime against a young Muslim girl. According to reports, 11-year-old Khawlah Noman was attacked by a man who attempted to cut off her hijab.

Noman was walking to the Pauline Johnson Junior Public School with her younger brother on 12 January when she was accosted by a man who tried to cut her head scarf with a pair of scissors. Noticing the man behind her, the girl screamed, forcing the attacker to flee the scene.

"I screamed. The man just ran away. We followed this crowd of people to be safe. He came again. He continued cutting my hijab again," Noman told reporters, alleging that the person was grinning at her before fleeing again.

"Sadly, someone insulted me by cutting my hijab two times," she said. "I felt really scared and confused because I didn't feel comfortable that people are doing this."

According to the description given to authorities, the suspect is an Asian man in his 20s. He wore black pants, a black hoodie and gloves, and sported a moustache.

"I don't know why he did that," Samia Samad, the girl's mother said. "It's just not Canada. I'm frustrated and I'm angry, but I do believe in peace in Canada. I am so proud to be a Canadian, and I want to give (the attacker) the same message."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne called the attack "a cowardly act of hatred" that has no place in Ontario. "This does not represent who we are. We must stand firm in our support of this young girl who was assaulted simply for wearing a hijab," he wrote in a tweet.

"Everyone in our province has the right to worship and dress however they choose," she added to reporters. "And everyone has the right to feel safe and respected no matter what they are wearing or where they go."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed a similar sentiment, stressing that this "is not who Canadians are".

"My heart goes out to Khawlah Noman following this morning's cowardly attack on her in Toronto. Canada is an open and welcoming country, and incidents like this cannot be tolerated," he posted on Twitter.

Canada has witnessed a rise in extremist activity, much of which has been targeted at Muslims. Close to a year ago, six people were killed after Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire at a mosque in Quebec soon after the evening prayers had ended.

"Islamophobia is on the rise, as evident in poll after poll that shows a significant swath of Canadians holding unfavourable views of Muslims," Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress wrote in an op-ed for The Globe and Mail. He referred to an Angus Reid survey published in November 2017 which showed that close to half of Canadians perceive the presence of Muslims as "damaging" to Canada.