The Current

Canadians must stand up to Islamophobia after fatal attack on Muslim family, says advocate

After four members of a Muslim family were attacked and killed Sunday, Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, says Canadians must stand up to the Islamophobia that drives such violence.

Mustafa Farooq calls for action to fight individuals acts of violence and white supremacist groups

A memorial has grown in the hours since a Muslim family was killed on Sunday evening in London, Ont. Police believe their killing was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

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An imam in London, Ont., says his community is filled with grief, but also anger after a violent attack left four members of a Muslim family dead on Sunday.

"This is not the first time that we've experienced this as a community," said Aarij Anwer, imam at London Muslim Mosque.

He pointed to the attack on a Quebec City mosque that left six dead in 2017, and a stabbing that claimed one life at a Toronto mosque last September.

"We've seen this happen so many times. [It's] almost becoming a yearly occurrence, and that is really, really traumatic for the community," he told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

"It's bubbling under the surface and ... every now and then, it rears its ugly head in a really devastating, violent way."

Muslim community grieves, calls for action after London, Ont., attack

1 year ago
Duration 2:03
Canada’s Muslim community is grieving yet again after a fatal attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., and a reminder of the country's dark, recent history of Islamaphobic violence.

Four members of a Muslim family were killed while out for a walk near their London, Ont., home Sunday night, in what police are investigating as a hate-motivated hit-and-run attack.

Police say the 20-year-old driver, who was arrested about 10 minutes from the scene the same evening, planned the attack and targeted the family because of their Muslim faith. 

While the attack prompted an outpouring of grief, Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCMM), said Islamophobia is still a huge problem in Canada. 

NCCM has tracked hundreds of instances of Islamophobia in recent years, as well as dozens of violent incidents, with the help of an interactive tool on their website. Figures from Statistics Canada show a 14-per-cent increase in police-reported hate crimes against Muslims between 2015 and 2019, accounting for 10 per cent of incidents against all groups.

Farooq noted that a Quebec newspaper today didn't feature the story on its front page, arguing that the issue "needs to be something that Canadians are talking about."

"We need to see Canadians stand up. We need to see there be action on this," he said.

Family members have confirmed to CBC News that the victims were Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother (whose name CBC News has not yet been able to confirm). The youngest member of the family, Fayez, 9, survived and remained in hospital Monday in serious condition. 

Anwer said that after the 2019 attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, his mosque in London has increased security measures. That included arranging for a police officer in a marked vehicle to sit outside Friday prayers, as a deterrent to violent intent. 

"All of this to do something that's completely normal, right, which is congregate in the mosque in our place of worship," he said.

Challenge everyday Islamophobia: expert

On Tuesday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the "brutal, cowardly and brazen" attack was an act of terror, citing other anti-Muslim incidents in recent years in Canada. 

He committed to redoubling efforts to dismantle far-right groups that encourage that violence, and funnelling funds to at-risk communities through federal initiatives. 

Trudeau calls deadly assault on a Muslim family in London a 'terrorist attack'

1 year ago
Duration 2:45
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the deaths of four people in London on Sunday in the House of Commons.

Farooq said "there's a variety of things that need to happen from a systemic level to fighting individual acts of violence and dismantling white supremacist groups."

"We need to see a national action summit on Islamophobia, where federal, territorial, provincial, municipal leaders are coming together to develop our next steps."

Irfan Chaudhry, director of the Office of Human Rights at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said acknowledgement is "the bare minimum" that Canadians can do, but there also needs to be a commitment to action.

That includes public information and resources to empower people to challenge Islamophobia when they see it in everyday life, he said. 

"It's not just these overt, horrific acts that we see around Islamophobia," he said.

"It's those everyday actions that have built to this sometimes, that I think need to be challenged a bit more collectively."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Ben Jamieson, Amanda Grant and Julie Crysler. 

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