HomeDomestic‘Reclaiming, healing and remembering’: London, Ont. community honours Afzaal family

‘Reclaiming, healing and remembering’: London, Ont. community honours Afzaal family

On Monday, London, Ont., will continue to remember four members of a Muslim family and the anniversary of their death in what authorities have called a hate-motivated attack.

On June 6, 2021, the Afzaal family was out for a walk when they were intentionally struck by a man in a pickup truck on the corner of Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road.

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Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah Afzaal and Salman’s 74-year-old mother Talat Afzaal were killed. The couple’s nine-year-old son sustained serious but non-life-threatening injuries and survived the attack.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack “an act of hatred and terror” as police said the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith.

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“There was grief, there was shock, there was anger, and a bit of fear,” reflects Shaikh Aarij Anwer, director of religious affairs for the London Muslim Mosque. “There was no shying away from it. This was here in our home, and it was brutal. We were faced with this reality in a very difficult way.”

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, is accused of deliberately hitting the family with his pickup truck.

He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in what prosecutors say was an act of terrorism.

The trial has been set for September 2023 and is to be presided over by Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance.

“I think we all know where we were one year ago,” said London Mayor Ed Holder, reflecting on the anniversary of the attack. “It’s one of those moments in history where something is so compelling, and it touches you in such a unique way.”

Earlier this year, Ontario’s New Democratic Party tabled legislation to address Islamophobia and other forms of hate, introduced as Bill 86, the Our London Family Act.

The Our London Family Act addresses calls from Muslim leaders to take concrete, meaningful action to combat Islamophobia in Ontario, including changes to the province’s education system in growing resources to understand Islamophobia.

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The motion was not passed in March.

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After gaining re-election in the 2022 Ontario election, London West MPP Peggy Sattler, one of the writers of the bill, said she would do “whatever is necessary to make that legislation into law.”

“I am hopeful and supportive,” said Holder. “(While) all the legislation in the world does not fix prejudice (and) does not fix racism, it makes some steps from an education standpoint and it’s a positive symbol.”

Looking at the impact left on the community, Anwer said that this past year has been a time of healing.

“Figuring out how to how to cope with our pain, how to make sure that our voices are heard, how to honour their legacy and the memory of that family. All of those things is from the healing perspective. But people are dealing with this very differently,” said Anwer.

On Sunday, thousands of Londoners marched through the streets of London, participating in an anti-Islamophobia march in memory of the Afzaal family.

Marking the anniversary of the attack on Monday, a prayer service and vigil are part of a series of events organized for the London community to honour the Afzaal family.

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The prayer service, hosted by the London Muslim community, took place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Islamic Cemetery of London.

Several other tributes are expected Monday afternoon in London to mark the anniversary.

Below is a completed list of Our London Family events occurring around the city:

  • Our London Family student walks from the Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board will take place throughout the day.
  • Community garden dedication at 1 p.m. at Maple Grove Park 1260 Coronation Dr.
  • Community art gallery launched 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the London Muslim Mosque, dedicated to Our London Family.
  • Our London Family Vigil, organized by the Youth Coalition Combatting Islamophobia, will start at 6:30 p.m. at the Memorial Plaza (Hyde Park/South Carriage Road).
  • Community Our London Family dua/prayer after Ishaa prayer at 10:30 p.m. at the North London Islamic Centre (NLIC).

The grand opening of the community garden dedicated to the Afzaal family includes 10 garden plots. Some of the compost from the plant and flower materials left at the corner of South Carriage and Hyde Park Road last year is being used in the plots in the garden.

The upcoming vigil will be led by the Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia (YCCI) and friends of Yumnah Afzaal, the 15-year-old daughter of the family who was killed in the attack.

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“The theme of the vigil is reclaiming, healing and remembering,” said Munya Haddara from YCCI. “We chose the site of the crash for the vigil as a way to be able to reclaim that space for us.”

In a statement released by the City of London, there will be various traffic impacts to accommodate the vigil.

South Carriage Road at Hyde Park will be closed as of 8 a.m. and access will be limited to local residents only on Prince of Wales at Gainsborough Road as of 3 p.m.

Also, there will be road closures in both directions on Hyde Park Road between Gainsborough Road and Sarnia Road beginning at 4 p.m.

Accompanying the vigil is the unveiling of a mural, inspired by Yumnah’s love of art, in a project “dedicated to healing” at the memorial plaza.

In collaboration with the YCCI, the City of London, and the Muslim Resource Centre for Social Support and Integration, the mural will stand five metres long and will range between 65 centimetres and 100 centimetres in height.

“The memorial plaza is focused on creating a space for healing and reflection and is intended to help reclaim the location,” said Patti McKague, director of strategic communications and government relations for the City of London. “The city consulted with London’s Muslim community and their input and feedback helped shape the design of the space.”

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Upon completion, the design of the plaza will see four ‘shooting star’ bands incorporated into the interlocking stone to reflect the four lives lost. These bands also align northeast with Muslim prayer as the words “Our London Family” are set to be engraved into the cement.

“Hate is an age-old problem,” said Anwer. “It doesn’t get solved in a few months or a few years, it will take time for it to get uprooted.”

“As Canadians, we celebrate our diversity, we celebrate our values of inclusion, and that leaves no room for hate.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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