On Sunday, October 8, 2017, Anne Widholm took a morning stroll on the Ganatchio Trail in Windsor, Ontario. The 75-year-old grandmother and Sunday school teacher was picking up litter, as was her custom, when Habibullah Ahmad, 21, attacked the woman and left her unconscious and near death. The one-year anniversary of the attack passed without notice in local and national media, but there had been some news.
In late July, CTV news said AM800 News, CKLW, has learned that a date for Habibullah’s trial would be set sometime in January 2019, though no official court or police document was cited. The CTV piece came headlined, “Windsor man going to trial for alleged Ganatchio Trail attack,” and the story cited “an alleged vicious attack of an elderly woman.” According to Widholm’s doctor, there was nothing “alleged” about it.
“In my 12 years in Windsor, this is the most severe beating I’ve seen,” neurosurgeon Dr. Balraj Jhawar told the Windsor Star. Dr. Jhawar detailed multiple brain hemorrhages, fractured vertebrae and “the worst skull fractures” he had seen in more than a decade. “This is among the most brutal things I’ve seen in my career,” Dr. Jhawar explained. “Her eyes were so bruised, they were swollen shut.” The victim required two major surgical procedures over a total of eight hours.
“This was, without a doubt, a vicious, vicious attack,” Windsor police Sgt. Steve Betteridge told the Star. “It’s very alarming to see an attack of this nature, at that time of day, at that location,” and police said the attack “appears to be random in nature.” Dr. Jhawar found that judgment “totally unacceptable.”
“For all of us who live here in Windsor, we can’t tolerate this,” the neurosurgeon told the Star. “This is not just another assault. This is concerning to me. This is maybe representing a new, dark side of Windsor that we can’t let propagate.”
Widholm remained in critical condition and Habibullah Ahmad made a court appearance on October 23, 2017, more than two weeks after the attack. The initial charge of aggravated assault had been changed to attempted murder. Attorney Patricia Brown represented Ahmad and Justice of the Peace Salma Jaffar denied bail. It was uncertain whether the accused attacker had pleaded guilty or not guilty, a matter of some importance.
Habibullah Ahmad, 21, made no statement and police did not release his booking photo. Ahmad was described as a “Windsor man” who also calls himself “Daniel” but locals did not learn how long he had lived in Windsor and what family members, if any, had to say about him. Not a single news story detailed where Habibullah Ahmad went to school or where he worked. No fellow students or work colleagues went on record about the accused.
If Habibullah Ahmad said anything about his motive for attacking Anne Widholm, it failed to emerge in the media. News stories did explain that Anne Widholm is a Christian woman, and active at the Riverside Baptist Church. So was Habibullah Ahmad’s attack on her a hate crime? Did racism play any role in the attack? Does Habibullah Ahmad have any affiliations with violent groups abroad? Not a single clue emerged in local media, and the case, for the most part, dropped out of sight.
In late October, 2017, Anne Widholm’s condition was upgraded from critical to serious. The next month, her husband Alfred passed away, piling more grief on the victim. In April came news of a cleanup event on the Ganatchio trail, which revealed that Widholm “remains in a coma after being attacked on the trail in October.”
The attempted murder was one of the worst attacks Dr. Jhawar had ever seen, but news stories charted no demonstrations or protests upholding Anne Widholm as an example of violence against women. Kathleen Wynne, then Premier of Ontario and a campaigner against bullying, did not cite the case. Canadian feminists did not openly denounce Habibullah Ahmad, who also calls himself Daniel, as a vicious attacker of women.
In January, an 11-year-old Toronto girl charged that a man had twice cut her hijab. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denounced the attack, which turned out to be a hoax. On the other hand, Trudeau had nothing to say about the attack on Anne Widholm, which was not a hoax. Her most vocal advocate has been Dr. Jhawar, who describes the victim as “a super good person.”
A year later, the “alleged attack,” went unmentioned and locals had been kept in the dark about the man charged with attempted murder. A date for his trial would be set in January, 2019 but that had not been officially confirmed by the court. It would be hard to blame anyone in Windsor for thinking that this amounted to special protection for Habibullah Ahmad and denial of justice for Anne Widholm.