As thousands of people gathered in front of Canada’s second-largest mosque in London, Ontario, Queen Persaud watched her niece and other children chalk brightly colored hearts all over the way.
The “path of hearts” was a tribute to the Afzaal, a local Muslim family, who every night took a walk through the neighborhood, greeted neighbors and friends, and who were killed on Sunday in what police described as a Motivated premeditated attack. by Islamophobia.
Members of three generations of the family were killed when a 20-year-old man ran his truck into them: Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, his daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, Salman’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74. The couple’s son, Fayez, aged nine, remains in the hospital.
On Tuesday night, crowds of mourners, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of all of Canada’s political parties, attended the vigil to honor the victims and protest against hatred.
Persaud, the daughter of a Chinese-Filipino mother and Indian father, said she was there because she had experienced racism in London all her life and so had all of her patients, two of whom were crying in her office that very day. “I’m scared for them,” he said. “I’m scared because they can’t be who they want to be out of fear.”
She was surrounded by Canadians of all colors and creeds. Sikh men handed out bottles of cold water on the hot, humid afternoon. The blue flag of the Métis Nation was raised above their heads. A girl in a printed abaya moved through the crowd holding a sign that read: “I am Muslim. I’m proud. “
Many women wore traditional costumes honoring Afzaal women; others wore purple scarves, Yumna’s favorite color.
The vigil began with the Muslim call to prayer, which, for the first time in Canadian history, was broadcast on national television. A moment of silence was observed at 8:40 pm, the exact time the Afzaal family was killed during their night walk.
The suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Sunday’s attack has sown fear and sadness in Muslim and racialized communities, but there is also growing anger over the country’s failure to curb racism and Islamophobia.
“Stories like this shatter people’s utopian image of what Canada is,” said Javeed Sukhera, a psychiatrist and chairman of the London police board. “The denial of racism in Canada is pathological. But how many more people have to die before politicians do something? “
Earlier 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 want to 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”?
A short time later, however, He said reporters that a law in Quebec that prohibits some public servants from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab does not encourage hatred and discrimination.
At the vigil, the prime minister received a silent response, but other prominent politicians were greeted with open hostility.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, who in 2017 joined 85 members of his party to vote against a non-binding motion condemning “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” and Conservative Prime Minister Ontario’s Doug Ford, who before organizing was banned was photographed with members of the Proud Boys – both were booed by the crowd.
“Canada has always seen itself as a multicultural society and we have broadcast it to the world, but if this level of hatred is happening here, then clearly the environment does not match the words,” said Mohammed Hashim, CEO of Canadian Race. Foundation Relations who attended the vigil. “Legislators must accept responsibility that this is an environment that they have allowed to exist in Canada, whether on the streets or online.”
In London, a city of 400,000 and home to nearly 40,000 Muslims, many residents said that racist micro-attacks were a daily part of life, but until now, none had felt unsafe walking the streets.
The Afzaals moved to the city from Pakistan 14 years ago and soon became beloved members of the local community. Salman was a physical therapist in elderly care. Madiha was a writer and civil engineer on her way to completing her doctorate.
Yumna was a painter who already left her legacy at the London Islamic School: a space-themed floor-to-ceiling mural with the words “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” Talat was an artist and school teacher, known as the “mainstay” of the family who appreciated their daily walks together.
After the death of the Afzaal family, Jeff Bennett, a former progressive Conservative candidate from Ontario and a London resident, sat down to write an apology for not doing more to confront the racism he had witnessed. On a facebook mailBennett wrote that the attacker “grew up in a racist city that pretends it isn’t.”
“I realized that horrible events happen because we allow [racism] go on too long, “he said in an interview. “Nobody wants to admit that they have done wrong or take responsibility, but we have to do it. We all contribute to systemic racism. Just as we point out the good things in the city, we also need to shed light on what we are not doing well. And that applies to all cities in Canada. “