As we drove back home one Sunday in early June last year, I gratefully counted the blessings of having spent the day with family and friends at a nearby beach. But that sense of gratitude and safety was disrupted when we arrived home and learned that another family wasn’t as fortunate as ours.
Although the news report hadn’t yet been confirmed, it said that a Muslim family was run down as they were walking along a sidewalk near their Hyde Park home. The report, confirmed the next day, left so many asking “Why?” Why was a family killed and what did they do to deserve such a horrible fate? Like many others, I had only one answer: they didn’t do anything at all, other than pay a fatal price for being Muslim.
Over the next few days, our London community was filled with feelings of fear, shock, anger and confusion. Whatever I did, I could not overcome the feeling of being numbed by the tragedy that befell our community and took the lives of three generations of a family. Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed as they took a family stroll just a few streets away from our home. A white man had deliberately hit them in his pickup truck in a London, Ont. on the evening of June 6, 2021. Nine-year-old Fayez was the only survivor.
In the days after the murder, a city and a nation mourned. A few days later, thousands united to walk in their honour and pay them tribute and pray for the recovery of the young boy. I kept thinking to myself, “Things like this don’t happen here,” but a voice within me kept responding, “Yes, they do.”
Just like they did in a mosque in Quebec City in 2017. True, terrorist acts like this shouldn’t happen anywhere to anyone, but similar acts of aggression happen to Muslims every day. What’s more, many Canadians are distrusting of Muslims. A 2017 Radio Canada poll found that 74 per cent of Canadians support a Canadian values test for Muslim immigrants while 23 per cent favor a ban on Muslim immigration.
A year later, London remembers
Various activities, including a walk, workshops, and vigils were organized that week to commemorate the tragedy and remember the family, as well as a dedication of a community garden to honour the memory of “Our London Family.” Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, attended and spoke to commemorate the solemn memorial.
But today, like then, Muslims are still asking themselves the same question, why is there so much hatred against our community, and what more concrete action can be taken to ensure the hate doesn’t keep repeating. Muslims want more than tolerance, more than walks of unity and solidarity, and more than candlelight vigils to remember the tragedy. Muslims want legislation to prevent Islamophobia and hold perpetrators accountable for violent behaviour.
With Islamophobic occurrences on the rise, community leaders are asking for concrete action from politicians at all levels of government and to deliver on the unfulfilled promises they made at the vigil last June. Such concrete measures will need to address Islamophobia in its various forms and will require work with the community to address steps that can be taken to prevent violent behaviour against Muslims.
Such an opportunity was missed when Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government failed to support a law to fight Islamophobia and other forms of hate. A bill tabled by the Ontario 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, and aimed to designate safe zones around houses of worship, prevent white supremacist groups from registering as societies and establish an anti-racism council that would provide input on government policies. Sadly, the bill was defeated ahead of the June 2 election.
In honour of the Afzaal family, it’s time to reflect on taking more concrete action and deliver on a promise for lasting change and accountability. This means legislating laws that ensure Islamophobia would be treated as a crime to prevent further violence toward a community still suffering and living in the darkness of fear and confusion. It’s time we took measures to ensure the safety of our Muslim communities in Canada, to protect our children, women who wear the hijab, and families as they enjoy an afternoon at the mosque, the beach, or as they take a stroll down a neighbourhood sidewalk. For the sake of “our London family,”
Mohamed Hammoud was a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada for London-Fanshawe in the 2021 federal election. He is an inspiring speaker and has been involved in various public speaking engagements focusing on interfaith as well as training on leadership, diversity and inclusion. He is also an active contributor to New Canadian Media and a member of the NCM Collective.