Additional expressions of support and solidarity with the Muslim community in London, Ont., are being planned while the suspect charged in Sunday’s vehicle attack is due back in court Thursday.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother were killed after police say a pickup truck heading south on Hyde Park Road near South Carriage Road intentionally mounted the sidewalk and struck the family. Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal suffered serious injuries.
Police say it’s believed the family was targeted because of their faith.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Thursday’s court proceedings will occur just two days after thousands gathered at a vigil for the family.
“I am from London,” Bilal Rahhal, chair of the London Muslim Mosque, said at the vigil.
“This city is my city, and this country is my country, as it is your city and your country. Never allow anyone to think otherwise because of the colour of your skin, your faith, or where you’re born. This is our city and we’re not going to let hate scare us or intimidate us or divide us.”
The vigil started shortly after 7 p.m. Tuesday outside of the London Muslim Mosque and lasted around two hours, filled with prayers and calls for action against Islamophobia.
Several dignitaries were in attendance at the vigil, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party Leader Annamie Paul and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Another gathering is being planned for Friday evening, organized by St. Aidan’s Anglican Church.
The Multi-Faith March to End Hatred will start at the site of the attack on Hyde Park Road at 7 p.m. and make its way down Oxford Street towards the London Muslim Mosque.
Rev. Kevin George acknowledged, however, that a march is not enough to make real change and more action is needed. He said people need to have the courage to speak out when they hear racial slurs or other derogatory speech.
“It also means examining the ways and the fears that we have in our own hearts. We can’t help but be infused and sort of surrounded by what we’ve been raised in. And we live in a colonized reality,” he said.
“And if we have that heart for care, for justice, for love, for peace, for reconciliation, then we also have to do the heavy work, the hard work, the messy work of being present and sitting in the conversation and hearing, quite frankly, difficult stories.”
A memorial at the site of the attack is also growing as people continue to lay flowers and place signs at the scene.
Outpouring of support from London community continues to grow this morning. People still stopping by the scene of the horrific attack with flowers and signs. #ldnont #OurLondonFamily pic.twitter.com/7lSyGdqSWy
— Kamil Karamali (@KamilKaramali) June 9, 2021
In addition to memorials, tributes and expressions of love and unity, calls are growing to push for action against Islamophobia and racism.
Family spokesperson Saboor Khan, who was their neighbour for 14 years and a close family friend, says the vigil brought a sense of comfort but more needs to be done.
“We don’t stop tomorrow; we don’t stop after a week. We continue until it is made clear that this kind of hate will not be tolerated,” he said.
“Enough is enough. We have to criminalize Islamophobia. We need to trace and track this kind of hate. There needs to be strong measures against people who resort to this kind of violence.”
Mustafa Farooq, lawyer and CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), would like to see all levels of government “convene an emergency action summit on Islamophobia” and “action at every level” including changes to the criminal code, resources at the educational level, and systemic changes.
Areej Ansari with Western University’s Muslim Students’ Association would like to see a summit, but she says change can also happen on the local level.
“Within Western specifically, making sure that Muslim students feel safe and comfortable on campus. As a Muslim student on campus right now, we don’t have prayer spaces in other buildings except one,” she said, adding that the space is usually over-capacity and is not accessible to all students.
She also provided other examples of how individuals can make sure spaces are inclusive, such as workplaces.
“People might have colleagues and co-workers who are Muslim. Making sure, just checking in on them being like, ‘do we even have a space in this building or this office where someone can go and pray? Do they get accommodated for religious holidays like they would for Christmas? Do they get accommodated for Eid or Ramadan?'” she said.
“I feel like if people are looking for ways to help or to show allyship, that’s where it starts.”
— with files from Global News’ Ryan Rocca, Jake Jeffrey, Matt Carty and Kaylen Small.
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