Relatives, community members and dignitaries called for an end to racism and Islamophobia on Sunday during an emotional tribute marking the one-year anniversary of a deadly attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont.
Leaders from the Muslim community and friends of the victims called on all levels of government for action to address Islamophobia.
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Pleas for compassion and tolerance were mixed with expressions of grief and mourning for the four family members killed in what prosecutors have described as a hate-motivated act of terrorism.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, died after police say they were deliberately hit by a truck during an evening walk in London on June 6, 2021. The family’s nine-year-old boy was hurt, but survived.
Esa Islam, a cousin of the Afzaal family, said the attack has left a gaping wound in his heart.
“Last year, I would never be able to understand how all it took was one act of hatred to change my entire life,” he said.
Islam made his remarks before hundreds of mourners who gathered at the football field of the high school his cousin Yumnah attended before her death.
“I miss being able to go over to their house and have fun conversations about Harry Potter with Yumnah,” Islam said.
“I miss the simple things, the things we always take for granted until they’re gone.”
Islam said politicians should follow the supportive words they’ve offered since the tragedy with actions to prevent similar attacks from happening in the future.
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“I’m tired of not seeing action by the politicians that we elect to lead us, hearing them make unfulfilled promises and speak hollow words of sorrow,” he said.
He singled out Ontario Premier Doug Ford‘s Progressive Conservative government for not committing to pass a law to fight Islamophobia and other forms of hate in the province.
A bill tabled by the NDP earlier this year – called the Our London Family Act – would have established a provincial review of hate crimes and hate motivated incidents in Ontario.
The bill, which would also have designated safe zones around houses of worship, prevented white supremacist groups from registering as societies and established an anti-racism council that would provide input on government policies, was defeated shortly after being introduced.
The bill was created with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and follows recommendations put forward by that organization.
“Despite all of the promises we heard last year, one year later, it feels there’s still an unwillingness by our elected leaders to take concrete action against … Islamophobia,” Islam said.
While Ford didn’t attend the event, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra were among the attendees.
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Trudeau said people should not ignore the reality that millions of Canadians are facing microaggression, discrimination and systemic racism every day.
He said his government has taken action to address hate and racism in Canada, but there is more work to be done.
“On this day, that we grieve, we also come together in commitment and resolve to make sure that tomorrow and next year, and all the days in the future, are also better,” he said.
“The lives of three generations of the Afzaal family were taken by a brutal, cowardly and brazen act of terrorist violence.”
A 21-year-old man faces four counts of first-degree murder in the attack. The case has not yet gone to trial.
Hundreds of those attending the event later marched to the school of the London Islamic Centre.
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