Muslim community reacts in horror after 4 killed in what police call 'premeditated' hit-and-run
TORONTO -- The Muslim community reacted in horror and shock at what police are investigating as a hate-motivated car attack in London, Ont., on Sunday evening that killed four family members and left a young boy injured.
Advocates also demanded justice and called for change that would put an end to what has been a string of hate crimes against Muslims in Canada.
“Our hearts are broken, our minds numb with pain,” community leader Nawaz Tahir told CTV News Channel.
“These were innocent human beings who were killed simply because they’re Muslim.”
Police say a 74-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman and a 15-year-old girl were allegedly struck and killed by a 20-year-old suspect, who is accused of driving a pickup truck into the family around 8:40 p.m. A nine-year-old boy survived and is in the hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.
"There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act and that the family was targeted because of their Muslim faith," said Det.-Insp. Paul Waight during the briefing.
“To be targeted in this way -- a grandmother, a mother, and father, and young daughter killed so senselessly. While the young boy, who is set to survive now, has lost his family. My hands have been shaking for much of the day since I’ve heard this news,” said Amira Elghawaby, a human rights advocate and founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, on Power Play.
“[It] really just continues to boggle the mind as to how hatred in our society can lead to such utter devastation.”
The city’s mayor, Ed Holder, described it as the worst mass killing London has ever seen.
“This wiped out three generations of family in one act … It’s horrific, senseless. And words don’t do it any justice,” Holder told Evan Solomon on Power Play.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) called it a terror attack in a statement.
“A man allegedly got in his car, saw a Muslim family walking down the street, and made the decision that they do not deserve to live. He did not know them. This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil and should be treated as such,” said Mustafa Farooq, the chief executive of the association.
The attack is the latest in a string of anti-Muslim violence that has hit communities across Canada. On Jan. 29, 2017, a man opened fire inside a mosque in Quebec City, killing six worshipers and injuring five others. Last September, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was stabbed to death from behind while seated outside a mosque in Toronto. And earlier this year, young Muslim girls and Black women were the target of several hate-motivated attacks and threats in Calgary and Edmonton.
“We simply cannot add another date. We must confront and stamp out Islamophobia and Islamophobic violence. Not tomorrow -- today. For the sake of our children, our families, our communities,” Tahir said.
Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City where the 2017 shooting took place, said it was a reminder that minorities must remain vigilant in Canada.
“This goes to show that hate is still present and that it’s disastrous.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his support for those impacted by the tragedy and told the Muslim community that “this hate is insidious and despicable”, adding he would “continue to use every tool we have to combat Islamophobia.”
ONLINE HATE A “TOXIC BREW”
The NCCM documented 322 anti-Muslim incidents between 2013 and 2019 ranging from physical violence to online harassment.
“The sad reality … is no, it's not an isolated event,” said Elghawaby.
“In terms of violence against Canadian Muslims, incidents of vandalism, of harassment, unfortunately, there has been an ongoing pattern of that type of activity in our country, just as we know that racism and discrimination against other groups as well has been on the rise right now, even in the middle of a pandemic. In fact, when we see the pandemic, it's almost brought together a toxic brew.”
Conspiracy theorists and the far right have latched on to COVID-19 and created a great deal of distrust within the population, pushing forward divisive narratives that target different communities, Elghawaby said, adding that there is a growing call for better regulation around online hate.
“We are just seeing this type of division manifesting itself online in particular and spilling over in these tragic outcomes in real life.”
What made the incident particularly frightening for many was the detail that the family was apparently on a post-dinner walk -- an activity that has become especially familiar to many Canadians during the pandemic.
“A beautiful summer day, and they were run down by a car, by a man who appears to be filled with hate and vengeance,” said Omar Khamissa, manager of community engagement for the NCCM.
“This family will never be able to return home just because they went for a walk after dinner.”
A COMMUNITY THAT GOES BACK GENERATIONS
London, Ont. is home to a large Muslim population with roots that can be traced as far back as 1890.
The London Muslim Mosque, built in 1964, is the first purpose-built mosque in Ontario, second in Canada, and third in North America, according to the London Free Press.
Khamissa said that change was urgently needed so that Muslim families can feel safe and practice their religion freely.
“This is a community that’s been here for years, that have helped build this city, that helped build the city from the ground up,” he said, noting some families have been here for 50 years.
“And they still have to be worried about that when they go for a walk with their family? It means that we have a lot of work still to do as a nation.”
If you need mental health help in the wake of the London, Ont. vehicle attack, support and resources are available here.
With a file from The Canadian Press