Canada: Calls to tackle Islamophobia, 1 year after London attack

Montreal, Canada – Muslim community leaders in Canada are renewing their calls to tackle Islamophobia as they commemorate the one-year anniversary of a deadly attack on a Muslim family that authorities say was motivated by hate.

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Over 150 delegates are meeting with parliament members in the capital, Ottawa, on Monday to demand concrete action to address Islamophobia and hate crimes, said Fatema Abdalla, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) advocacy group.

A walk against Islamophobia will also be held on Monday evening, NCCM said in a statement.

“Muslim communities are still reeling from this incident,” Abdalla told Al Jazeera in a phone interview about the deadly attack in London, Ontario, on June 6 last year.

“This brutal attack has forever altered the relationship that Muslim community have with Canada. Muslims are afraid to walk across the street; they’re afraid of congregating at masjids [mosques] without having to look over their shoulder.”

Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed when a driver ran them over with a pick-up truck while they were out for a walk. The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured.

The attack renewed sorrow and trauma for Muslim community members across Canada, many of whom were still reeling in the aftermath of a deadly 2017 assault on a Quebec mosque that left six worshippers dead, and a fatal stabbing at another mosque in Toronto in 2020.

For years, Muslim community leaders have called on authorities to tackle racism, hate-motivated violence, and the prevalence of far-right groups in Canada.

Researchers in 2020 found that the number of hate groups operating in the country had tripled in recent years, with anti-Muslim rhetoric one of the “most salient” topics among right-wing extremists online.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to tackle the problem, holding a national summit on Islamophobia in July of last year.

On Sunday, Trudeau and other government officials attended a march in London to remember the Afzaal family and stand united against hate.

“This afternoon in London, thousands of people showed up to honour the Afzaal family; to be there for Fayez, who survived; and to march against Islamophobia. In memory of #OurLondonFamily, we must keep working together and using every tool we have to combat this hatred,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter.

Last year, NCCM put forward a list of 61 recommendations to tackle Islamophobia at all levels of government, including through the development of a federal anti-Islamophobia strategy and the provision of funds to help support victims of hate-motivated crimes.

The group also urged Canadian provinces to ensure their anti-racism directorates are well resourced and called on municipalities to fund community-based efforts to address the problem.

Abdalla at NCCM said that while some positive steps have been taken over the last year – including the reintroduction of legislation that would allow for civilian oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) – more action is needed.

“We do believe that it starts from the top. We need to see change and we need to see it now, and one of the key ways we can do that is by informing our Canadian society about the actual harm Islamophobia has,” she told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, the London attack suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, faces four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and terrorism charges. His trial is set to begin in September 2023, Canadian media outlets have reported.

Uneeb Khan
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