'Taken too soon': Funeral service held for London, Ont. family killed in vehicle attack
TORONTO -- Hundreds gathered in London, Ont. on Saturday afternoon at the public funeral for four members of a Pakistani-Canadian family who were killed in an attack that police have called a hate crime.
The public was invited to join in celebrating the lives of Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah Salman.
The four family members died last Sunday while out for a walk after they were hit by a truck in what police say was a premeditated attack because they were Muslim. The couple's nine-year-old son, Fayez, was the only survivor and remains in hospital as he recovers from injuries sustained in the attack.
The funeral began with a recitation from the Qur'an by Imam Mohamed Fouad from Quebec City, which was translated into English by Munir El-Kassem, the director of religious affairs at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Canada, Raza Bashir Tarar, spoke briefly at the funeral saying, "I stand here before you to reiterate the condolences from my Prime Minister Imran Khan, from my foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, from the entire nation and country of Pakistan which 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 very fact that their coffins are draped in the beautiful Canadian flag is a testimony of the fact that the entire Canadian nation stands with them," he added.
Some of the family’s relatives also spoke at the ceremony and shared touching tributes.
"Last Sunday evening four fountains of sweetness were taken away. Three generations taken too soon," Madiha Salman’s uncle said at the service. "In schools, universities and nursing homes, across southwestern Ontario there are hundreds of lucky people who felt the gentle unassuming characters of our loved ones."
"The outpouring of support we have received from Canadians and from across the world has confirmed the potential of absolute innate goodness inside humankind irrespective of colour and creed. The expressions of raw emotion, the prayers, the quiet tears, the messages of comfort from people we know and from people who are complete strangers has been the first step towards finding a way to heal," he added.
Throughout the service, volunteers distributed masks and water bottles to the crowd, which was separated by gender.
Feisal Shamshad is just one of hundreds of mourners who showed up to pay their respects. Shamshad told CTV National News that he drove two hours with his young son to attend the service, which he says served as a lesson in humanity.
"The hate is there," he says. "It’s very hard to explain to such a small kid like a seven-year-old boy."
The ceremony concluded with a prayer for the family.
After the hearses left for the cemetery, lawn signs were distributed to mourners showing four white silhouettes of the family members on a purple background with the slogan, "We stand with our London family."
The family was buried later Saturday at the Islamic Cemetery of London in a private ceremony.
CALLS FOR CHANGE
Across Canada, advocates are imploring politicians to do more than to simply condemn Islamophobia and are calling for the implementation of concrete policies.
"We need to have action," Nawaz Tahir, spokesperson with the London Muslim Mosque told CTV News Channel. "We have, unfortunately, a lot of work to do in front of us."
Early on Saturday, the Ontario legislature unanimously passed a motion condemning Islamophobia. The vote comes just two days after some in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario attempted to block the measure.
"It is the start of a process," Tahir explained. "To those who seek to divide us know that the love of the community that hopefully you saw this week should show you that you will not divide us but you will make us stronger."
With files from The Canadian Press