I don’t intend to belabour the Hijab Hoax story anymore — other than to hold the Toronto District School Board to account for its involvement in the rushed press conference — but I received a belated response from a person of interest dragged into the right-wing conspiracy theories floating online about the Hijab Hoax because they believed she attended the press conference.
Shamiza Baig categorically denies she was at the school the day of the press conference. She also says she doesn’t even know the family of the young girl and was volunteering at another school when the press conference took place. The full response from Baig is provided at the end of this article.
Baig is a political activist, executive committee member for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal riding association in Don Valley West, and a volunteer at Gateway Public School. Baig was also one of the parents that organized to have a TDSB school cafeteria converted into a mosque for Islamic prayer that turned into a controversy back in 2012. After the alleged hijab attack turned out to be a made up story some conspiracy theorists online thought the older woman in a hijab was Baig and a wild rumour began to spread on Twitter. I reached out to Baig on February 1 to ask her about her alleged involvement in the press conference. Baig finally responded to my email on March 12. In my previous stories I made no mention of the older woman because I didn’t (and still haven’t) been able to confirm her identity. Others made allegations that it was Baig, apparently from a couple photographs of Baig they thought matched that of the woman at the press conference.
(One of many Twitter accounts spreading a rumour that Shamiza Baig was involved in the Hijab Hoax press conference.)
(Huffington Post blurred out the unidentified older woman along with the girl once police reported the alleged attack never occurred. I’ve reached out to a Huffington Post Canada editor for an explanation as to why they decided to blur out the woman’s face and will update when/if I hear back.)
(I reached out to Tarek Fatah to ask if he still believes Shamiza Baig attended the press conference. I will update if I hear back from him.)
I spoke to one journalist who attended the press conference and they said they weren’t sure who it was but that she was presented as the grandmother.
Here is the email in full that I received from Baig on March 12:
Thank you for your email attached below. I’m very sad and disappointed as a result of all the false media assertions. Even in your email below you are taking for granted that I was present at the press conference. You said “I was wondering if I could speak to you about your experience after attending the press conference and explain why you were there.”
Please let me make it clear in no uncertain terms – I was not at the press conference, I had no knowledge of the press conference, I don’t know who organized the press conference, I don’t know the girl or family who made the accusations, I had no involvement whatsoever in organizing the press conference and therefore, I certainly had no experience of the press conference.
It is shocking and distressing how some random person(s) decided to say (I can’t assume it was malicious but it well could have been) that one of the brown women wearing hijab attending the press conference was me, and then media sources just pick it up as fact without even trying to verify it. I don’t even look at all similar to any of the women who were photographed or aired on TV at the press conference. It was such a racially based assumption for people and the media to make. By the way, the day of the press conference, I was at Gateway Public School where I work as a lunchroom supervisor and also do some volunteer work, as I have done for decades at that school.
I deserve an apology for the impact to me, my family and our reputation as a result of these false assumptions. If at all you have any desire to publish and accurate follow up story to the incident, then you would clarify that [I] wasn’t in attendance.
I never promoted or spread or acknowledged in any way the rumour that Baig was involved in the press conference and hoax on social media. However, I did insinuate she was in attendance in one of the questions I posed to her in my email. I should’ve chosen my words more carefully, simply asking her if she was in attendance — and for that I apologize.
Others, unless they have irrefutable proof proving their claims, should retract the assertions they made on social media — based on only a couple of unverified photographs — and apologize. Real journalism requires rigorous fact checking and verification.
(Investigating the Toronto District School Board for recklessly hosting a press conference with the little girl and her younger brother only mere hours after the alleged attack was said to have taken place is a separate matter from the baseless conspiracy theory peddled above and deserves to be pursued. I’ve raised just shy of the first half of the $2,000 fundraising goal to fund the Freedom of Information request processing fees and hours of journalism required in this investigation. I will also be updating the progress of this undertaking later this week with an update on the appeal I’ve just filed with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario in regards to the FOI request filed with the TDSB.)