The Current

One year after London truck attack, some Canadian Muslims still fear for their safety

It's been a year since four members of the Afzaal family were murdered in a hate-motivated truck attack in London, Ont. But despite calls for action, including by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, some Muslims still feel unsafe on the streets.

Despite calls for action, hate crimes are on the rise in parts of Canada

Thousands attend a vigil for a family of four killed in an attack that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called an ‘act of terrorism,’ during a speech at the London Muslim Mosque in London, Ont., on June 8. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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A year after four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., were killed in a hate-motivated truck attack, Ingy Akkary's son Youssef still gets jumpy when he crosses the street.

"He's afraid to cross the street," Akkary told The Current's Matt Galloway. "Even in the neighbourhood, if he sees a car coming he will run to [a] front yard."

She said her son's reactions have broken her heart. But despite his fears, she can't reassure him that a similar attack will never happen again.

"I tried to tell him nothing will happen to you, but I know that anything can happen," she said. "I keep talking to him like it's destiny … if something is meant to happen, it will happen anywhere."

"But it's OK. We can walk together. I'm holding your hand. If Allah is with you, don't be scared."

A family stand outside, looking to camera.
A year after the London van attack, Ingy Akkary, right, said her son Youssef, far left, still gets jumpy when he crosses a street. (Submitted by Ingy Akkary)

It's been a year since Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their daughter, Yumna, and Salman Afzaal's mother, Talat, were killed while out for a walk near their London, Ont. home. 

The man accused has since been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges.

Fayez, the nine-year-old son of Salman and Madiha, was the lone survivor of the attack. He was classmates with Youssef.

WATCH: Anti-Islamophobia march marks one year since London, Ont., attack

Anti-Islamophobia march marks one year since London, Ont., attack

1 year ago
Duration 2:02
Featured VideoHundreds of people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, joined a march against Islamophobia in London, Ont., one year after the murder of the Afzaal family who were killed in a hate-motivated attack while out for a walk.

Since the event, Akkary said the community has been trying to celebrate the Afzaals' lives more — and focus on how Canadians have come together to stand against Islamophobia.

"Seeing everyone come together, our kids see that, our youth see that. They feel that, OK, everyone stands together and no one will be OK with hate."

A community milestone

More than 1,000 people joined a march in London to commemorate the Afzaal family and fight against Islamophobia on Sunday. 

Among those in attendance was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"We are gathered here to honour the victims of this horrible tragedy," he said. "The lives of three generations of the Afzaal family were taken by a brutal, cowardly and brazen act of terrorist violence."

I don't want my kids to grow up in a world where … they cannot practise their religion.-Noor Al-Henedy

Noor Al-Henedy, the communications director for Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, said it was important for the prime minister to refer to the attack as an act of terrorism because Muslims have been stereotyped as terrorists while attacks against Muslims are rarely classified as such.

"So to see that the prime minister has called this a terrorist attack … it's a huge milestone for our community."

Noor Al-Henedy, the director of communications for Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, said the prime minister calling the London van attack an 'act of terrorist violence' is a huge milestone for the Muslim community. (John Shyptika/CBC)

Nusaiba Al-Azem, the second vice-chair of the London Muslim Mosque, said referring to these hate-motivated attacks as Islamophobic has been a "contentious issue" in the past, so it was a "milestone moment in the collective Muslim consciousness" for politicians to continue denouncing Islamophobia.

"We can't improve without having something to measure against, and you can't fix a problem if you pretend it doesn't exist," she said.

It also helps that cities like London are becoming more aware of local Islamophobia and working harder to combat the issue.

Earlier this year, the city released an action plan to disrupt Islamophobia. The report, which was commissioned after the June 6, 2021, truck attack, recommends more education about the contribution of Muslims and the creation of an anti-Islamophobia advisory council, among other steps.

"On paper, the plan looks good and has certainly buy-in from the Muslim community here," Al-Azem said. "We just kind of need to see how it gets rolled out now."

More work to do

Despite the work being done, hate crimes are still on the rise in parts of Canada. Toronto police reported there was a 22 per cent increase in hate crimes in the city in 2021; and Edmonton Police investigated 23 hate-motivated crimes between January and March this year, a jump from 13 investigations during the same period in 2021. 

London also saw an increase in hate-motivated incidents; 146 such incidents and crimes were reported to London Police in 2021, compared to 93 in 2020 and 61 in 2019.

Between Jan. 1 and Mar. 24 this year, 26 such incidents and crimes have been reported to London Police. 

Three women wearing pastel colours and one man stand looking at the camera.
A year after four members of the Afzaal family were murdered in a truck attack in London, Ont., hate-related incidents and crimes are still on the rise in the city. (Submitted by the Afzaal family)

Al-Henedy said Muslims in her Edmonton community still don't feel safe. 

"I know that we're working together and doing everything in our power to ensure that our community feels safe," she said.

"But if every few weeks you open the news and you find out that another Muslim woman has been attacked because she has hijab on, or like what we've seen in London last year … it's really hard for people not to sense fear."

Al-Azem said there are various changes to education reform and police accountability that she would've hoped to have seen by now that haven't been made, such as "stiff penalties for violent offenders and a rehab path."

"Then the other piece that I think … needs to happen more is we need to be conducting more research — and it shouldn't only fall on marginalized communities to spend of their own resources to do the research, to identify problem areas in order to advocate for it," she said.

Nusaiba Al-Azem, the second vice-chair of the London Muslim Mosque, believes more work needs to be done to education reform and police accountability to better address Islamophobia. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Al-Henedy would also like to see a fund set up in order to better support victims of hate speech, especially those experiencing trauma and PTSD following these crimes.

She said her kids have a right to be their "true, authentic selves" in Canada, and without more action, she's concerned.

"I don't want my kids to grow up in a world where … they cannot practise their religion," she said. "That's a right that cannot be stripped away from them because of Islamophobia, because of hate or racism."

Written by Mouhamad Rachini, with files from CBC News. Produced by Ben Jamieson and Cathy Simon.

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