Scores of people have gathered outside an Islamic centre in the Canadian city of London, Ontario, to mourn and remember four members of a local Muslim family killed in what police said was a hate-motivated attack.
A public funeral service was held on Saturday for the Afzaal family members, who were hit by a driver as they waited at a street corner in London, about 200km (124 miles) southwest of Toronto, last weekend.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna, and Salman’s mother, Talat, 74, were killed when the driver ran them over in a pick-up truck at about 8:40pm local time on Sunday (00:40 GMT on Monday). The couple’s nine-year-old son was taken to hospital with serious injuries.
Police said the family was targeted “because of their Islamic faith”.
Mourners rolled four caskets draped in Canadian flags to the front of the public funeral ceremony on Saturday afternoon, which was followed by a communal prayer. A private funeral service for family and friends will be held later in the day.
“It’s beyond words,” Ed Holder, the mayor of London, told CBC News before the ceremony began. “This is too heartbreaking, to see three generations of a family just wiped out like that. We’re trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.”
Raza Bashir Tarar, high commissioner for Pakistan to Canada, said during Saturday’s service that the entire nation of Pakistan – where the Afzaal family was originally from – “stands shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this hour of grief, in this time when our hearts are bleeding because of the atrocity that has befallen this wonderful, marvelous family”.
The attack has spurred widespread grief in Muslim communities across Canada, which are still reeling from a deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque in 2017 – as well as fuelled calls for concrete action to root out anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobia.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, has been arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder, as well as one count of attempted murder.
Call for action
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, a national advocacy group, in an open letter this week called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to host a National Action Summit on Islamophobia “to chart a path forward for Canada in ending violence against Muslims”.
“The summit is a start. The outcome of the summit, in terms of concrete policy, will be the test of whether all governments and political parties are truly committed to preventing further loss of life,” reads the letter, which has been endorsed by dozens of faith-based and civil society groups.
On Friday, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) introduced a unanimous consent motion in parliament demanding Ottawa convene the emergency summit on Islamophobia before the end of July. The motion was passed.
“Canada needs to urgently address our problem of white supremacy and far-right radicalisation. We cannot give hate any air to breathe or space to take hold,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, tragedies like these are not isolated events. Muslims across this country have experienced hate for years. It should not be this way. It is the government’s responsibility to address this now.”
Trudeau decried the killings in London as a “terrorist attack” and promised to do more to stem far-right hate.
Bardish Chagger, Canada’s minister of diversity and inclusion and youth, said on Friday that “in response to calls from communities, we will be hosting a series of summits including a National Summit on Islamophobia to coordinate further action.”
Muslim community members have called for action to tackle anti-Muslim hate incidents and incitement for years. Most recently, Black Muslim women in the province of Alberta have reported a series of verbal and physical assaults, while a mosque caretaker in Toronto was fatally stabbed.
Abd Alfatah Twakkal, a Muslim faith leader in London, told Al Jazeera earlier this week that Muslim community members were shaken by the attack.
Thousands of people marched in the city on Friday evening to show solidarity with the family and demand action, while vigils were held in Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, the capital, among other places across the country.
“We have deep roots in this community, and to be able to have our sense of safety shattered – this is our home, we’re supposed to feel safe at home, we’re supposed to feel safe walking the streets of our beautiful city,” said Twakkal, adding that all forms of racism and discrimination must be rejected.
“Those systemic forms of discrimination or racism that exist within our society, they need to be addressed, they need to be dealt with, they need to be undone.”