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Muslim community 'feels safe' in Yellowknife, following targeted attack in London, Ont.

A deadly targeted attack on a family of Muslims in London, Ont., is “terrifying” but not reflective of the Muslim experience in Yellowknife, says a leader in the city’s Islamic community.

Attack should be clearly described as act of terror, Islamophobia, says chair of Yellowknife Islamic Centre

People and members of the media are seen at a makeshift memorial where a Muslim family was run over in what police say was a deliberately targeted anti-Islamic hate crime, in London, Ont., on Sunday. (Carlos Osorio/REUTERS)

A deadly targeted attack on a family of Muslims in London, Ont., is "terrifying" but not reflective of the Muslim experience in Yellowknife, says a leader in the city's Islamic community. 

Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Canada Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, said there is hate in the city — but it doesn't exist to the same extent as it does in other places.

"The community feels safe due to the larger number of people who understand, and their friends, and we have a very good relationship with law enforcement agencies," he explained. 

London police say the attack was planned and motivated by hate, and the family of five was targeted because of their faith. Four victims were killed while taking a walk Sunday evening, after a black truck slammed into them.

Family members have identified them to CBC News as Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother. A nine-year-old boy named Fayez, the youngest member of the family, survived and remained in hospital Monday in serious condition. 

A 20-year-old man has been charged with with four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder. 

"It's really difficult to even understand why a 20-year-old would have done that," said Awan. 

"This incident … should be clearly identified and communicated as an act of Islamophobia and terror so that people know, in Canada, it is happening." 

Although members of the Muslim community feel safe in Yellowknife, Awan said the city still has work to do. All levels of government should have a shared mandate to raise diversity awareness, he said. 

Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Canada Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, said it's hard to understand the attack in London, Ont. (Submitted by Nazim Awan)

He'd also like to see more education in schools. 

"Wherever we have people, we give a message of respect and diversity and there's no need to stereotype a community or appearance," he said. 

Hatred against Muslims, he added, should not be taken lightly. 

"Everybody should be vigilant, and if they see any behaviour that is dangerous which can cause incidents like this, then it is everyone's responsibility that they take the right decision at the right time."

There are an estimated 500 to 600 Muslim people living in Yellowknife, said Awan, and between 80 to 100 have arrived in the city over the past two years.  

He's helped organize a vigil for the victims and a rally against Islamophobia. The event is taking place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Yellowknife's Somba K'e Civic Plaza.

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