TORONTO —A man was arrested Friday after four female parishioners were sexually assaulted at a North York church while he was an usher, police say.
“There’s nothing the church was aware of that would’ve given them the knowledge that this gentleman would have criminal intentions,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Grimshaw of the Toronto Police Service.
Police say there have been four sexual assaults occurring during the past few years at the Toronto Restoration Church at High Park Road and Finch Avenue East.
Toronto police say around 2:30 p.m. Friday, 25-year-old Farhat Tousiq Malik was found at the church and arrested on charges of sexual assault and sexual interference. Police were originally contacted by the church after receiving complaints.
Grimshaw said that surveillance video showed Malik sexually assaulting the female victims while he was a member of the congregation.
“There has been an incident there, there’s no doubt about it, and from what we can gather so far there were four incidents in the last couple of years and one incident happened this year,” he said.
The arrests came after a police spokesperson tweeted an image of a suspect on Wednesday.
Police say the preliminary investigation indicates there are no other victims.
Pastor Ganesh Varadan of the Toronto Restoration Church didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The church’s website shows it is affiliated with a Hindu foundation called the World Hindu Council, but Chief Operating Officer Bala Radhakrishnan wrote in an email to The Washington Post on Friday that it wasn’t involved in the church’s operations.
“We do not have any connection to the Toronto Restoration Church which does not happen to be affiliated with the World Hindu Council,” Radhakrishnan wrote.
But given that the church’s website includes a hashtag, #AtLeast46, about the number of sexual assaults that have occurred over the past few years, there may be some awkwardness for the church’s leadership.
“We are committed to providing the families who attend the church with the basic necessities of life,” the website says. “And we pride ourselves on the fact that we promote our local communities and we shall continue to do so.”
Grimshaw said that there have been several people within the church that have been questioned in the past, but not to any great extent.
“It’s an unusual circumstance,” he said. “It’s not a church that’s commonly known for any sort of sexual assault issues.”
Following the arrests, police issued a tweet warning other members of the public not to come forward.
“Sexual Assault Information and Notification System reports (SANN) sent by clergy are not to be released,” the tweet read. “No further media inquiries are to be made.”
Police are urging anyone with information on the allegations to contact them at 416-808-1900 or tpscrimestoppers.com
“We do have a look on it,” Grimshaw said of the church’s internal safety procedures. “We’ll let the church handle it from here.”