Nova Scotia

Halifax imam calls for national action to combat hate crimes in wake of deadly London attack

An imam in Halifax is calling for an organized national response to racist and hate-motivated crimes after the hit-and-run attack Sunday night in London, O.N., that took the lives of three adults and one teenager.

Canada needs clearer policies, laws, and national registry, says imam

Abdallah Yousri is the imam of the Ummah Masjid in Halifax. (Robert Short/CBC)

An imam in Halifax is calling for an organized national response to racist and hate-motivated crimes after the hit-and-run attack Sunday night in London, Ont., that took the lives of three adults and one teenager. 

Police have said they believe the attack was premeditated and that the family of five were targeted for their Muslim faith.

Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Masjid Mosque said not enough is being done to combat and prevent hate crimes in Canada.

"We need to see plans. We need to see actions," Yousri said in an interview with the CBC's Bob Murphy on Tuesday.

Victims were out for a walk

Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife, Madiha Salman, 44; their daughter, Yumna Afzaal, 15; and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother were out for an evening walk in the Ontario city when they were struck by a black truck and killed.

The sole survivor, nine-year-old Fayez, is in hospital and expected to survive his injuries. 

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, of London faces four charges of first-degree murder and one charge of attempted murder. 

Yousri said he wants federal and provincial governments to develop and publicize clearer definitions, policies and laws for hate crimes, and believes the federal government should create and fund a national entity to tackle Islamophobia and racism in all its forms. 

The Ummah Masjid is a mosque in Halifax on Chebucto Road. (Robert Short/CBC)

He is also calling for concrete guidance for minority communities on how to react and report these incidents.

"I think it is the time to have a national reporting system for hate crimes to tackle hate speeches and hate crimes at the very early stages," he said.

Yousri said the incident in London is more evidence of a clear and well-documented spike in hate crimes and Islamaphobic attacks across this country.

"It is hard to process what happened in London," he said.

Imam Zia Khan is with the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

For Imam Zia Khan, the targeted attack was not a shock. He said he's seen this kind of violence against Muslims in Canada too many times and is worried it could happen here in Nova Scotia.

"We have been scared for a very, very long time," Khan, who's with the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax, told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Tuesday.

It's especially painful to talk to his children and other young community members about hate-motivated acts like this, he said.

Imam calls for terrorism charges 

Three generations of the London family came to Canada seeking safety and a better life like so many other immigrants and refugees, Yousri said, only to be attacked and killed for their faith. 

It's "unbelievable to imagine" the life that awaits Fayez, who has just lost his mother, father, sister and grandmother, said Yousri.

"We are blessed to be here in Nova Scotia and Halifax," he said. "Every time when we have any incident, the entire community comes together."

However, he added, this incident is different. He supports the calls for terrorism charges against the driver.

"There's no other definition of what happened other than a terrorist attack," he said.

A vigil has been planned for Wednesday at 7 p.m. AT in the park next to the Ummah Masjid Mosque in Halifax.

Imam Zia Khan from the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax spoke with guest host Preston Mulligan about the deadly attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario. 13:40

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet