London, Ont. officials unveil ‘Action Plan to Disrupt Islamophobia’

The plan comes in light of the June 6 targeted vehicle attack against a local Muslim family, which sparked national conversations on how to combat Islamophobia. Geoff Robins / The Canadian Press

After months of consultation, officials with the City of London have put forward an action plan that aims to disrupt Islamophobia on a local level.

The plan comes in the wake of the June 6 vehicle attack, which targeted a local Muslim family while they were out for a walk in the Hyde Park neighbourhood in London, Ont.

Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was left seriously injured but survived.

The attack, which police have deemed a hate crime, marked the deadliest mass murder in London’s history and sparked national conversations surrounding Islamophobia.

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The plan, which can be viewed in full on the city’s website, presents dozens of recommendations to the City of London, community-based organizations and public sector organizations.

The list builds off the 61 recommendations put forward by the National Council of Canadian Muslims ahead of the federal government’s national summit on Islamophobia last July.

Some of the highlights include developing a new public nuisance bylaw to address street harassment and “hateful verbal assaults,” establishing an advisory council to hold the city accountable and working on commemoration efforts for the anniversary of the June 6 attack.

As part of the proposed commemoration efforts, the plan includes a $150,000 funding request to erect a memorial plaza at the site of the attack, create a mural and build a community garden in honour of the victims.

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The city’s anti-racism and anti-oppression director Rumina Morris says the mural will be designed in part by friends of Yumna, the 15-year-old girl who died in the attack.

“Long-standing in our community at that intersection, there will be an image that’s created by those youth that is in honour their friend lost and the family members that were taken,” said Morris.

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Morris says the plan works by taking aim at Islamophobia through a systemic approach and allowing the hoped-for benefits to trickle down.

“The street harassment, or what we call the public nuisance bylaw here in London, is a great example, so when I experience something on the ground that I have a system that can support that piece. How do we shift that narrative, so that it is no longer acceptable or permitted to do those types of things?” Morris said.

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Another example can be found in developing more inclusive ways to plan events for the city, such as accommodating prayer time during full-day conferences.

“That (approach) has been what the community has demanded and is in keeping with how we do this type of work,” Morris said.

The plan follows months of consultation with local stakeholders, including those in the Muslim community, a group that Morris said felt hurt, frightened, angry, frustrated and desperate for action from all levels of government.

Morris said the consultations also wanted to focus on how Islamophobia is felt from an intersectional lens by distinguishing the different experiences of different Muslim Londoners.

City officials also wanted to avoid painting the Muslim community as a monolithic voice and found that many Muslim youth felt they were being overlooked, something city officials hope to repair by adding youth representation to the advisory council that aims to hold the city accountable.

“Do people feel any safer as a result of this? No. For me, this is the beginning,” Morris said.

“When we start to actually implement these recommendations and people start to see things looking and feeling different in their community, I would suspect that will be a great time to gauge how people are feeling.”

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The plan requires city council approval and will go before the group of politicians on Tuesday afternoon, when they meet as the strategic priorities and policy committee.

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