As thousands of people gathered outside Canada’s second largest mosque in London, Ontario, Reina Persaud watched her niece and other children criticize colorful hearts all over the place.
The “Heart Trail” was a tribute to Afzaals, a local Muslim family who took a walk around the neighborhood every night and greeted neighbors and friends – and who were killed Sunday in what police have described as a deliberately motivated motive. of Islamophobia.
Members of three generations of the family died when a 20-year-old man plowed his pickup into them: Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 1
On Tuesday night, crowds of mourners – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of all Canadian political parties – attended a vigil to honor the victims and protest against hatred.
Persaud, the daughter of a Chinese-Filipino mother and an Indian father, said she was there because she had experienced racism in London all her life, and so did all her patients – two of whom cried in her office earlier in the day. “I’m scared of them,” she said. “I’m scared because they can not be who they want to be out of fear.”
She was surrounded by Canadians of all ethics and creeds. Sikh men handed out cold water bottles that hot and humid evening. The blue flag of the Métis Nation rose sharply above the head. A little girl in a printed abaya moved through the crowd with a sign that read: “I am a Muslim. I am proud.”
Many women wore traditional dress in honor of the Afzaal women; others wore purple scarves – Yumna’s favorite color.
The guard started with the Muslim call to prayer, which – for the first time in Canadian history – was broadcast on national television. A moment of silence was held at. 20.40, the exact time when the Afzaal family was killed during their evening walk.
The suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Sunday’s attacks have spread fear and sadness across Muslim and racist communities – but there is also growing anger over the country’s inability to curb racism and Islamophobia.
“Stories like this are destroying people’s utopian image of what Canada is,” said Javeed Sukhera, a psychiatrist and chairman of the London Police Board. “Denial of racism in Canada is pathological. But how many more people will have to die before politicians do anything? ”
Earlier on Tuesday, Trudeau told parliament: “This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities. If anyone thinks that racism and hatred do not exist in this country, I would say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say ‘Islamophobia is not real’? “
Shortly afterwards, however, he told reporters that a law in Quebec banning some officials from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab does not promote hatred and discrimination.
On vigilance, the Prime Minister was met with a subdued response, but other prominent politicians were met with open hostility
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole – who in 2017 joined 85 members of his party to vote against a non-binding proposal condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination” – and Ontario’s Conservative Prime Minister Doug Ford – which before the organization was banned, was photographed with members of the Proud Boys – both were bowed by the crowd.
“Canada has always seen itself as a multicultural society and we have communicated it to the world, but if this level of hatred happens here, then the environment is clearly not in line with the words,” said Mohammed Hashim, CEO of Canadian Race. Relations Foundation, which participated in the vigil. “Politicians have to take responsibility for the fact that this is an environment they have allowed to exist in Canada, whether it is on the streets or online.”
In London, home to close to 40,000 Muslims, many of its 400,000 residents said racist micro-attacks were an everyday part of life, but until now no one had ever felt unsafe walking the streets.
Afzaals moved to the city from Pakistan 14 years ago and soon became much loved members of the local community. Salman was a physiotherapist in the field of geriatric care. Madiha was a writer and civil engineer on her way to complete her PhD.
Yumna was a painter who already left his legacy at London Islamic School: a space-to-ceiling space-themed mural with the words “shoot to the moon, even if you miss, you will land among the stars”. Talat was an artist and a schoolteacher, known as the “pillar” of the family, who loved their daily walks together.
Following the death of the Afzaal family, Jeff Bennett, a former Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate and resident in London, set out to write an apology for not doing more to confront the racism he had witnessed. In a Facebook post, Bennett wrote that the attacker “was raised in a racist city pretending not to be”.
“I had an intense realization that terrible events happen because we allow it [racism] to continue for too long, ”he said in an interview. “Nobody wants to admit that they have done wrong or are responsible, but we must. We all contribute to systemic racism. Just as we point out the good things in the city, we also need to shine a light on what we are not doing well. And that applies to all cities in Canada. ”