MONTREAL (CityNews) — It all came rushing back for Quebec’s Muslim community — the heartbreak, the graphic memories, the devastation of losing loved ones.
The death of four family members, which, according to police were intentionally struck down by a driver in London, Ont. on Sunday pulled Quebecers back to that evening in January 2017 when a gunman shot dead six people and seriously injured another five inside a Quebec City mosque.
The incident led the Canadian government to dedicate Jan. 29 as the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec Mosque Attack and of Action Against Islamophobia.
“It’s like seeing the same horrible movie again,” said Imam Hassan Guillet, who presided over the funerals of the Quebec City mosque attack victims. “We are seeing the blood on the walls again. We are seeing the blood on the mosque carpets again. We are seeing all the people screaming, crying, grieving.
“It’s reliving the same funeral again. The wound has not healed yet, it’s reopened again. I see myself — and I’m quite sure the victims in Quebec City see themselves — in the same place they were in January 2017.”
Police have said the family members in the London attack were targeted because of their Muslim faith.
They say a pickup truck, driven by a 20-year-old London man, mounted a curb, struck them as they were out for an evening walk and then drove away.
WATCH: Muslim family targeted in fatal hit and run (June 7, 2021)
“I feel that Islamophobia, this is a real thing,” said Mohamed Labidi, co-founder and former president of the Quebec City mosque. “It’s not only just talking. It’s real on the ground. There’s effect of it. In Canada, we have three tragedies about that.
“One in Quebec City, with 6 people dead.
“In Toronto, the man who was slaughtered in the front of the mosque. Now with four people from the same family. It’s a very tragic event.”
A vigil is scheduled for Tuesday evening at the mosque of the five family members.
London 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 was seriously injured but is expected to survive.
“I cannot sleep at night thinking about this young boy in hospital,” said Guillet. “All his family is dead. When he comes out of hospital, how will his life be? I know orphans, I know people who lost their father or their mother or their sister.
“But this young boy lost all of them. In front of his eyes. It’s beyond understanding.”
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London Mayor Ed Holder called the weekend’s attack “an act of mass murder perpetrated against Muslims.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a “terrorist attack, motivated by hatred.”
The latest statistics show that in 2017, the year of the Quebec mosque shooting, the incidents of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada rose to 349 cases — a 151 per cent increase from the 139 cases recorded in 2016.
However, Statistics Canada says about two-thirds of hate crimes across the country go unreported.
WATCH: Quebec City holds memorial for mosque attack (Jan. 30, 2021)
For Fatima Ahmad, a young Quebec teaching graduate who wears a niqab, anti-Muslim attacks are becoming far too commonplace.
“This family was just walking on a Sunday evening to take some fresh air,” she said. “But that, even taking a walk, is not safe for you. I’ll always look behind me if there’s somebody walking behind me. When I go to the metro, I try to stand next to the wall so that I don’t get pushed. Most of my bad experiences happen in the metro.
“So I always have to be on the lookout. And I shouldn’t be doing that every time.”
Ahmad says she has been physically attacked three times since she started wearing the niqab.
“After the third time, I was just waiting,” she said. “It’s just a matter of time it happens again. … So when this happens, the fear increases and you feel very unsafe in your own city.”
The deadly attack in London has left the country’s Muslim community in anguish, wondering why these incidents are taking place, and what can be done to stop them once and for all.
“We should work together,” said Labidi. “I think of the government, media, ordinary people, to fight against racism, against crime. Not only the racism against Muslims, but racism against all communities.
“We see that it’s not stopped. There are tragic events again and again. We should do something to stop it.
“We should work together to work hard against racism and against Islamophobia — all kinds of racism in Canada.”
–with files from The Canadian Press