Toronto’s Muslim community has come together to mark the one-year anniversary of a volunteer who was killed outside of an Etobicoke mosque.
In the weeks and months leading up to his death, 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was supporting those in need by handing out food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On September 12, 2020, Zafis was killed outside of the International Muslims Organization of Toronto mosque while performing health screening for people at the doors.
Toronto resident Guilherme “William” Von Neutegem, 34, was charged with first-degree murder.
It’s a painful reality Zafis’s daughter, Bebe, continues to grapple with.
“(His life) got taken away so fast, so soon. There’s not a day that (goes) by that I don’t miss him,” she said.
“I’m afraid to go to mosques, to wear a hijab, to go out there, to say ‘I know I’m not a next victim,’ but sometimes I feel I am.”
To show their support for a grief-stricken community, politicians, police officers and various organizations attended the event. The mosque also held a food drive to honour Zafis’s legacy of devoting his time to those in need.
Imam Junaid Bhaiyat describes Zafis as “a beautiful, kind, compassionate, loving soul who was viciously, mercilessly attacked and killed.”
“I can enumerate the time that has passed since, but how can I possibly enumerate the amount of tears that have been shed?”
Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims says “far too many beautiful folks have been taken from us in the last five years.”
Farooq says the community has been pushing for the dismantling of white supremacy groups. Earlier this year, Canada added three far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, as a terrorist entity.
“We shouldn’t have had to see the death of a man outside in the parking lot to have had action happen,” he said.
It’s alleged Zafis’s killer had ties to neo-Nazi groups, which experts say have grown over the last few years due to an explosion in online hate.
“The far-right in Canada, the racist right in Canada, its kind of core DNA is anti-Muslim racism,” said Evan Balgord, with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
“The number one thing we need right now is regulations for social media companies to proactively remove hate speech.”
In 2020, Toronto police reported a 51 per cent increase in hate crime reports. Statistics Canada reported more than 2,600 reports that same year.
In 2019, a survey conducted by Statistics Canada found 223,000 self-reported hate crime incidents.