Manitoba’s Muslim community is grieving following the horrific attack in London, Ont., Sunday that killed four members of a Muslim family.
On Sunday evening, police said a pickup truck, driven by a 20-year-old London man, mounted a curb and struck the family of five as they were out for an evening walk, and then drove away. Only a nine-year-old boy survived.
Police are calling it a targeted and hate-motivated act. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a terrorist attack.
The executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association says she’s devastated, but sadly, not surprised.
“It’s horrific, it’s numbing, it’s painful, it’s excruciating. But for myself, not surprising,” Shahina Siddiqui said.
Siddiqui says it’s part of a series of horrific acts against Canada’s Muslim community, including the 2017 Quebec city mosque shooting, that show Islamophobia is prevalent in the country.
“And now this tragic event. A family, doing what all Canadian families do, going for a walk. This is the only activity you can do as a family under COVID now — where do we go? Where do Muslims go? We’re not safe in our places of worship, we are not safe on the streets of Canada. We are not safe even to open social media and hear the hate that comes our way,” Saddiqui said.
“I think over two decades Islamophobia has penetrated so deep it is literally getting into the DNA of our nation.
“And we are a nation who are known for what we did to the Indigenous population of this world. We were still grieving for the Palestinian children, for the 215 children whose remains were found — and now this. How much of this as a nation are we going to take? How long are we going to let this continue?”
She says she has been calling for action for decades, including pushing for more education on Islamophobia in schools and education within numerous other sectors, such as police forces and the RCMP. But Siddiqui says it’s disheartening that conversations only happen following a tragedy like this.
“The rest of the time we just turn the other way, as if everything is OK. But it’s not. Once you have unleashed hate it can’t be put back in a genie bottle. It has to be addressed,” she said.
“I want to see a commitment from our governments. I don’t need political rhetoric, I don’t need empty slogans. I need action. I need to put our money where our mouth is.”
But she also says action is long past due.
“I started this when I was a younger woman; now I am a grandmother and I am seeing all the issues through that lens now,” Saddiqui added.
“How do I talk to my kids to ensure them that they’re safe in the park? That they can go and play soccer? That it’s OK to wear a hijab, that it’s OK to be Muslim. Which grandmother would want to have that conversation with their grandchildren? Black grandmothers are, Muslim grandmothers are, Indigenous grandmothers are…. This isn’t the Canada I signed up for.”
“I just want a national soul-searching. We can’t move forward like this. We have to address the injustices of our past, but that cloud hangs over us, and as long as we do not address what we did to the Indigenous peoples of this land, those of us who have come much much later, who didn’t come as settlers but came through the front door, cannot expect anything better.”
The University of Manitoba Muslim Student Association says the attack has many in the Muslim community concerned for their own safety.
“For the Muslim community, it’s a feeling of insecurity, you know, especially the Muslims in London, Ontario,” U of M Muslim Student Association president Abdul Ahad told Global News.
“Taking an evening walk is something that is natural and after going through such a long lockdown, it’s something natural that they were supposed to do and they didn’t actually expect something to happen, to never to go back home.
“We felt really afraid. You never know what’s next, who’s going to be the next victim.”
Police have not released the names of the victims, but a statement released by the family late Monday identifies them as Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother.
The couple’s nine-year-old son Fayez Afzaal was seriously injured but is expected to survive.
Nathaniel Veltman has been arrested and charged with murder in the attack.