After killing of Muslim family, Canada faces its Islamophobia

Following the hate-motivated murder of four members of a Canadian Muslim family in London, Ontario, the broader community has come together to mourn the lives lost and to combat racism.

Carlos Osorio/Reuters
People pray following a vigil on June 8, 2021 at London Muslim Mosque in London, Ontario, Canada after four members of a Muslim family were killed over the weekend in what police describe as a hate-motivated attack.

Relatives of a Canadian Muslim family killed in London, Ontario, when a man rammed them with his pick-up truck on June 6, are urging the wider community to oppose racism and Islamophobia after police said the suspect was motivated by hate.

The four family members killed on Sunday were: Salman Afzaal; his wife, Madiha Salman; their teen daughter, Yumna Afzaal; and Mr. Afzaal’s mother, whose name has not yet been released. Their younger son, Fayez Afzaal, remained hospitalized on Tuesday with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

London, a city of about 400,000 people located halfway between Detroit and Toronto, has a large Muslim community and at least three mosques.

A 20-year-old suspect named Nathaniel Veltman is in police custody, charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

In a statement issued late on Monday, relatives of the victims disputed an initial police appraisal that the accused man was not a member of any hate group and had no accomplices.

“The young man who committed this act of terror was influenced by a group that he associated with, and the rest of the community must take a strong stand against this,” the relatives said in a statement, though they did not identify the group or explain how they know about the alleged ties.

“We need to stand against hate and Islamophobia and raise awareness in our communities and across all the political spectrum,” they added.

Police, citing witnesses, said Mr. Veltman jumped the curb in his vehicle and struck five members of the family. Mr. Veltman, with no previous criminal record, is due back in court on Thursday after being remanded to custody on Monday.

The relatives of the victims said the children had both been top students and their parents excelled in their fields.

“Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the ... family know the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians, and Pakistanis. They were always there giving and participating in spreading goodness,” the statement said.

The family has declined to comment further.

‘This is our city’

On Tuesday evening, thousands of mourners gathered outside the London Muslim Mosque, a place of worship that the victims had attended, to remember the lives lost in the incident. Similar vigils took place in Toronto, Vancouver, and other cities across Canada.

“This is our city,” Bilal Rahhal, chair of the London Muslim Mosque, told the crowd. “Never allow anyone to make you think otherwise because of the color of your skin, your faith, or where you were born. ... This is our city and we’re not going anywhere.”

Several dignitaries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, and New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh were also in attendance.

Addressing the mourners, Mr. Trudeau said his government would take action, after placing flowers on the steps of the mosque, without giving details.

“This was an act of evil. But the light of the people here today, the light of the lives of the Afzaal family – that will always outweigh the dark,” Mr. Trudeau said.

‘Devastating consequences’

The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since a man gunned down six members of a Quebec City mosque in 2017. London Mayor Ed Holder called it the worst mass murder in his city’s history.

“The London Muslim Mosque, it’s the second-oldest mosque in Canada. ... This London [Muslim] community here has helped build this city,” said Omar Khamissa, community engagement officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims nonprofit group.

“This is their home. And for the first time, those that wear the scarf, who have a beard, feel it’s not,” Mr. Khamissa said.

The mosque bolstered security measures after a gunman killed 51 people in 2019 at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, according to Aarij Anwer, its imam and Islamic education coordinator.

“We’ve been ramping up our security since that time, and now even more,” Mr. Anwer said in a telephone interview. “Islamophobia is bubbling under the surface, and it rears its ugly head from time to time with devastating consequences.”

“After Quebec it was: are we safe praying in our mosques? And now it’s: are we safe going out for a walk after dinner?” said Nawaz Tahrir, a spokesperson for the London Muslim Mosque.

Mr. Tahrir added that Canadians have to “ask more of our leaders” and enact policies that address the causes of anti-Muslim hate.

“Until we do that, I fear that this isn’t going to be the last incident,” Mr. Tahrir said.

This story was reported by Reuters. Steve Scherer reported from Ottawa, Anna Mehler Paperny reported from Toronto, and Moira Warburton reported from Vancouver.

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