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Vigil held in Whitehorse for Muslim family attacked in London, Ont.

Dozens of people gathered outside the mosque in downtown Whitehorse to express grief over a fatal attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont. over the weekend, that police say was targeted and hate-motivated.

Dozens gathered outside the mosque in downtown Whitehorse to express grief and condemn Islamophobia

A note affixed to the Whitehorse mosque listing the names of the victims in a fatal attack against a Muslim family in London, Ont. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Dozens of people gathered in front of the mosque in downtown Whitehorse at noon on Thursday for a vigil for members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., who were targeted in a fatal truck attack on Sunday. 

While many expressed grief and shock over the news, for some attendees, the attack was also a painful reminder and illustration of the realities of Islamophobia in Canada. 

"All of these lives, stolen — I ask, for what? I ask, why?" Israr Ahmed said to attendees in an opening speech. 

"It breaks our hearts, it breaks everyone's hearts — it should break every conscientious heart, because hate has no place in humanity, in human life." 

Speaker Israr Ahmed said the killing was an act of 'terrorism designed to make Muslims afraid to walk down the street.' Ahmed was speaking at a vigil in Whitehorse on Thursday for a Muslim family targeted in a fatal attack in London, Ont., on Sunday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman's mother, Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed after a truck rammed into them as they were taking a walk in London, Ont., Sunday evening. Another child, nine-year-old Fayez, survived the attack and remains in hospital.

Police have described the attack as pre-meditated and hate-motivated.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, has been arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. London police have also said they're looking into the possibility of laying terrorism charges. 

Ahmed, in his speech, described Veltman's alleged actions as a "terrorist attack."

"It was aimed at striking fear in the hearts of the Muslims," he said. "It was aimed at  striking fears and making people feel unwelcome and look over their shoulder every time they walk on the street."

Flowers left by attendees of a vigil in Whitehorse on Thursday for a Muslim family targeted in a fatal attack in London, Ont., on Sunday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Another speaker, mosque volunteer Kazim Qadir, said he hoped the tragedy wouldn't just become "a topic of the day or a topic of the week or a topic of the month." 

"I really hope that us, in general, and our leaders that are present here and all the people that have any sort of influence on others do our part to fight the fight against Islamophobia," he said. 

"And the only way that I feel to do that is to educate others so that we can teach our kids, our youngsters, our friends and family members as to how to deal with it when they do come across it."

Yukon politicians including MP Larry Bagnell, Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis and four territorial ministers were among the attendees. 

This minaret is installed above Yukon’s only mosque which opened in this location in 2018. The small building on Second Avenue near Black Street is the centre of a growing community. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Asad Chishti, one of the vigil organizers, described the turnout as "really excellent," adding that there was "no shortage" of people who had also sent messages saying they wished they could have attended in-person. 

Like Ahmed and Qadir though, he noted that the attack was "not an isolated incident" and that Islamophic incidents have been on the rise.

"Every event like this re-traumatizes us and reminds us of other losses," Chishti said.

"It's also connected to the losses of other communities and the struggles of other communities, whether that's Indigenous communities or Sikh communities or Black communities … It's a shared struggle." 

Standing at a distance, as per COVID-19 protocols, attendees listen to the speakers’ call for peace at a vigil held in Whitehorse on Thursday for a Muslim family targeted in a fatal attack in London, Ont., on Sunday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Based on interviews by Philippe Morin

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