VANCOUVER (CityNews) — Hundreds gathered in Vancouver Thursday evening at a vigil for the four members of a Muslim family who were killed in what police are describing as a hate-motivated attack in London, Ontario.
Outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery the crowd shared prayers, spoke out about being targeted in Islamophobic attacks, and united in demanding action to combat hate.
Those gathered mounted and honoured Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother — three generations of a family killed when a man deliberately struck them with his truck while they were out for an evening walk. A fifth victim, a nine-year-old boy remains in hospital. A 20-year-old man has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
This woman knew the family in #londonontario. She is recounting her experience living in Canada, and being a woman of colour. She says the suspect was arrested blocks from her mother's house. pic.twitter.com/adgXROeJKE
— Ria Renouf (@riarenouf) June 11, 2021
Among those speaking at the vigil was Summer Sultan, who is a Vancouver-based friend of the family.
She said a family’s funeral is set to take place on Saturday, but the young boy’s pain will continue beyond that. Although still in the hospital, the nine-year-old has been told that no one else in his family survived.
“He knows. He knows what’s happening. He will be staying in London with extended members of the Yufsil family. That is all I can reveal,” she said.
“Think about what impression and trauma he now has to carry with him from Sunday forward about being Canadian. Just think about that. This is his Canada, this is our Canada, and it’s a pretty messed up Canada.”
Organizers of this event said they felt compelled to do something.
Noor Fadel is one of them and says while Vancouver is on the other side of the country, she hopes the extended family and community in London feels the support.
“We thought 50 people would show up at most, so to see the crowd out here today is really heartwarming, because our intention for this is to get that community together,” she says.
She notes this fatal, hate-motivated attack happened soon after the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found in unmarked graves on the site of a former residential school, and amid a spike in reports of anti-Asian hate crimes — all revealing.
“We’ve had a really difficult month, a difficult week — knowing what’s going on with the Indigenous community, knowing anti-Asian hate crimes have been increasing tremendously. Now, this story, with Islamophobia, and it’s tragic, it’s absolutely tragic. It’s not a surprise. We were expecting it. We were waiting for the next headline. We just didn’t think it would have been this soon with everything else going on as well.”
“On the other side (of this Art Gallery) they are mourning babies.” References made to the memorial for the 215 Indigenous children is still up. Tonight, I’m on the other side where at least a few hundred people are here to mourn what happened to a Muslim family in Ontario. pic.twitter.com/5SYdcCkI0o
— Ria Renouf (@riarenouf) June 11, 2021
Fadel herself was the victim of an Islamaphobic assault on the SkyTrain in December, 2017. She said a man approached her and yelled that he was going to kill her and all Muslims before grabbing her head and forcing it toward his crotch. He then struck her across the face, prompting another transit rider to push him off her. The man who attacked her received a suspended sentence and two years probation in 2018 after pleading guilty to assault and threatening to cause death or bodily harm.
Hira Rashid, another one of the organizers, says too many people are unaware of how prevalent anti-Muslim bigotry is in this country.
“Our biggest concern is that there is a high rise of Islamophobia within Canada, and many people are unaware of it. However, our community is very aware of it, especially our women, our women who wear hijabs, they’re the most vulnerable,” she said.
“We are concerned that these sorts of attacks are continuously happening, and we need to put a stop to them because Canada is supposed to be a place where we all feel safe. And if one person feels unsafe and no one is safe.”
#Vancouver residents gathered to grieve & remember the Afzaal family.
Salman. Mediha. Yumna. Talat. Fayez.
— Harjit Sajjan (@HarjitSajjan) June 11, 2021
While Rashid says grassroots gatherings are important shows of solidarity, she wants to see more action from those in power.
“I also look forward to seeing what our politicians and leadership do about Islamophobia, because we are demanding actual changes we are demanding new policy creation, and a summit on Islamophobia so that we can address it at the root,” she said.
“We are not looking for thoughts, we are not looking for prayers. We’re looking for people to demand change alongside of us. We are looking for people to help influence policy that supports us.”
With files from The Canadian Press