Manitoba

Manitoba Muslim community in shock after London, Ont., police say family killed because of their faith

Manitoba's Muslim community is reeling after several members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., were killed and a nine-year-old is in hospital following what police are calling a hate-motivated attack.

Man, 20, charged with 4 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder after running over family with vehicle

Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, says the attack is making Muslim people wonder if they can be safe anywhere. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitoba's Muslim community is reeling after several members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., were killed and a nine-year-old is in hospital following what police are calling a hate-motivated attack.

A 20-year-old man was charged Monday with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder after running over a multi-generational family with his vehicle. Four people — three adults and one teenager — were killed and one child is recovering in hospital from serious but non-life-threatening injuries, London police say.

Evidence shows the attack was intentional and premeditated, and stemmed from the perpetrator's disdain for the family's faith, London police say.

"It's always a shock," said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of Islamic Social Services Association Inc. (ISSA) in Winnipeg.

"No matter how much you think you have prepared yourself — because things like this will happen and continue to happen — it's shock, but it numbs you."

Siddiqui has been in contact with some members of the Muslim community in London, who told her the family "was beautiful, very much admired in the community," she said.

The family was originally from Pakistan, which Siddiqui says adds another layer of grief for her because she, too, is from Pakistan. 

Terrorism charges have not yet been laid against the 20-year-old, but police are investigating and further charges could be laid if evidence presents itself, said London police.

Tasneem Vali, vice chair of the Manitoba Islamic Association, says those charges would be a step in the right direction.

'This is a wake-up call'

After the Quebec mosque shooting in 2017, Islamic associations in Manitoba were able to advise local mosques and the Muslim community on how to stay safe when gathering, said Siddiqui. 

But the family in London was attacked while out for a walk.

"What do we tell [them]? Just lock yourselves up in your homes? You can't do that," said Siddiqui.

Tasneem Vali, vice chair of the Manitoba Islamic Association, says she is hopeful the next generation will bring a more accepting world, based on how her children and their friends interact with one another. (CBC)

The community generally is feeling a mix of numbness, fear, anger or anguish, the women said.

Vali had never personally felt afraid in Canada until now, because the attack was targeted and she and her daughter are visibly Muslim because they wear hijabs, she said.

Siddiqui is also concerned that Muslim women may be easier targets, she said.

Both women emphasized that Islamophobia exists in Canada and that all people must stand up against it.

"This is a wake-up call. We have to pay attention to what's happening to people every day of their lives," said Siddiqui.

LISTEN | Winnipeg Muslim community grieving after London, Ont., attack:

Tasneem Vali is Vice President of the Manitoba Islamic Association. If you're member of the Muslim community and need help the Manitoba Islamic Association is offering confidential counselling services from trained psychiatrists. To access that help you can email counseling@miaonline.org. 8:21

When something happens in the Middle East, Siddiqui will get a call from someone saying "we're going to destroy you." Racial slurs are directed at people walking down the street and sometimes she has to assure her grandchildren people aren't going to hurt them because they're Muslim, she said.

"Shouldn't we be ashamed that we're having these conversations?"

Muslims are "absolutely regular Canadians" who, among other things, care about their children's schooling, want to contribute to society and have the same aspirations as other people, said Vali.

"We might dress a little differently, we might speak a little differently. But that just enriches the culture, as opposed to taking away from it," she said.

Vali says the attack in London is on par with the Quebec mosque shooting four years ago.

At that time, the Manitoba Muslim community was able to gather in person and people could see love and support, she said. Now, though, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, gathering together is prohibited.

The Islamic associations are organizing a prayer service of some kind to hopefully provide closure, she said.

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman took to Twitter Monday afternoon to offer his condolences and acknowledge that Islamophobia continues to exist in Canada and "it has deadly consequences."

The Winnipeg sign at The Forks will be dimmed Monday night as a show of support for the local Muslim community, as well as Muslim people across Canada, he said on Twitter.

Supports available

Members of the local Muslim community can access grief counselling through the Islamic Social Services Association by emailing info@issacanada.com and the Manitoba Islamic Assocation by emailing counselling@miaonline.org (preferred) or calling (204) 256-1347.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC News. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. Prior to joining the CBC, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email him at nick.frew@cbc.ca

With files from Cory Funk

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