Calls for action to tackle Islamophobia after four people killed in Canada

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A driver ploughed a pick-up lorry into a family of five, killing four of them and seriously injuring the other in a deliberate attack that targeted the victims because they were Muslims, Canadian police said.

Mass murder

Authorities said a young man was arrested in the car park of a nearby shopping centre after the incident on 6 June in the Ontario city of London.

Police said a black pick-up vehicle mounted a kerb and struck the victims at a junction. Mayor Ed Holder said:

This was an act of mass murder perpetuated against Muslims. It was rooted in unspeakable hatred.

People attend a memorial at the location (Brett Grundlock/AP)
People attend a memorial at the location (Brett Grundlock/AP)

The extended family issued a statement identifying the dead as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15; and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name was withheld. The boy taken to hospital was identified as Fayez. The statement said:

Read on...

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Everyone who knew Salman and the rest of the Afzal family know the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis.

They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled.

Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with their spiritual identity.

A fundraising webpage said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast and his wife was working on a PhD in civil engineering at Western University in London. Their daughter was finishing ninth grade, and the grandmother was a “pillar” of the family, the page said.

The family said in its statement that the public needs to stand against hate and Islamophobia. The statement said:

This 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, from the highest levels in our government to every member of the community

Hate crime

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was in custody facing four counts of first-degree murder. Police said Veltman, a resident of London, did not know the victims.

Detective superintendent Paul Waight said police had not determined if the suspect was a member of any specific hate group. He said London police were working with federal police and prosecutors to see about potential terrorism charges.

He declined to detail evidence pointing to a possible hate crime, but said the attack was planned.

About a dozen police officers combed the area around the crash site looking for evidence. Blue markers on the ground dotted the junction.

Police officers look for evidence at the scene (Geoff Robins/AP)
Police officers look for evidence at the scene (Geoff Robins/AP)

Police chief Stephen Williams said:

We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith

He added:

 There is no tolerance in this community who are motivated by hate target others with violence

In 2017, a French Canadian man known for far-right, nationalist views went on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.

Chaos

One woman who witnessed the aftermath of the deadly crash said she could not stop thinking about the victims. Paige Martin said she was stopped at a red light when a large vehicle roared past her. She said her car shook from the force. Martin added:

I was shaken up, thinking it was an erratic driver

Minutes later, she said, she came upon a gruesome, chaotic scene near her home, with emergency personnel running to help, a police officer performing chest compressions on one person, and three other people lying on the ground. A few dozen people stood on the sidewalk and several drivers got out of their cars to help.

Martin said she “can’t get the sound of the screams out of my head”. From her apartment, Martin said she could see the scene and watched an official drape a sheet over one body at about midnight. She added:

My heart is just so broken for them

Terrorism

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said Muslims in Canada have become all too familiar with the violence of Islamophobia. Council head Mustafa Farooq said:

This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such

Nawaz Tahir, a London lawyer and Muslim community leader, said:

We must confront and stamp out Islamophobia and Islamic violence — not tomorrow, today, for the sake of our children, our family, our communities.

The mayor said flags would be lowered for three days in London, which he said has 30,000 to 40,000 Muslims among its more than 400,000 residents.

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  • Show Comments
    1. In today’s climate of bigotry, I feel it’s not enough to just not think/act hateful; we all also need to display kindness, perhaps through a sincere smile. As strange as it may sound, I feel Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent emphatic suggestion that “the next time you see a woman in a hijab or a family out for a stroll, give them a smile,” is actually a very healthy yet relatively effortless response by caring individuals toward ALL acts of targeted hate. (One might also wear anti-hate symbolism, e.g. a colored ribbon or shirt.)

      I decided to do just that as my own rebellious response to the (as anticipated) acts of racial/religious intolerance that soon followed Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. Anti-Trump demonstrators’ catchy slogan was “Love Trumps Hate”. While I’m not much for the ‘love’ part, I would do the next best thing by offering a smile.
      But when offering a smile, one should do so promptly. In my first attempt, with a passing woman wearing a Muslim head scarf, I hesitated long enough (likely for fear of possibly offending her modesty) for her to catch my blank stare and quickly look away. Bitterly ironic, the opposite of my intended friendly gesture was therefor likely perceived by her.

      I made sure to not repeat the mistake, however, as I passed a middle-aged Black woman along the sidewalk. To me, she had a lined expression of one who’d endured a hard life. I gave her a smile, and her seemingly tired face lit up with her own smile, as though mine was the last thing she’d expected to receive. Since then, we always greet one another and even converse while awaiting the bus.

      1. As strange as it may sound, I feel Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent emphatic suggestion that “the next time you see a woman in a hijab or a family out for a stroll, give them a smile,” is actually a very healthy and powerful (yet relatively effortless) response by caring individuals toward ALL acts of targeted hate. (One might also wear anti-hate symbolism, e.g. a colored ribbon or shirt.)

        I decided to do just that as my own rebellious response to the (as anticipated) acts of racial/religious intolerance that soon followed Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. Anti-Trump demonstrators’ catchy slogan was “Love Trumps Hate”. While I’m not much for the ‘love’ part, I would do the next best thing by offering a smile.
        But when offering a smile, one should do so promptly. In my first attempt, with a passing woman wearing a Muslim head scarf, I hesitated long enough (likely for fear of possibly offending her modesty) for her to catch my blank stare and quickly look away. Bitterly ironic, the opposite of my intended friendly gesture was therefor likely perceived by her.

        I made sure to not repeat the mistake, however, as I passed a middle-aged Black woman along the sidewalk. To me, she had a lined expression of one who’d endured a hard life. I gave her a smile, and her seemingly tired face lit up with her own smile, as though mine was the last thing she’d expected to receive. Since then, we always greet one another and even converse while awaiting the bus.

        In today’s climate of bigotry, I feel it’s not enough to just not think/act hateful; we all also need to display kindness, perhaps through a sincere smile.

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