Maritime Muslims say London attack heartbreaking and worrisome

Members of the Halifax Muslim community are expressing shock and heartache -- but not surprise -- at the London, Ont., attack that killed four members of a local family and orphaned a nine-year-old.

"Sadness, the first thought's sadness. Horror at the same time," said Zia Kahn, director of the Centre for Islamic Development in Halifax.

"Fright. I've been unable to fathom the idea that you can be just run over because you look a certain way."

The four family members who were killed Sunday night when they were hit by a vehicle in London, Ont., in what police say was an attack targeting them over their Muslim faith, have been identified.

A statement released to the media by a family spokesperson names the deceased as Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha, their daughter Yumna and Salman's mother.

Fayez Afzaal, 9, survived the attack. He "is on the road to recovery from serious injuries," the statement reads.

Nathaniel Veltman, 20, faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Khan says the attack has sparked fear in the local community.

"And it grips you sometimes with sadness, and sometimes it paralyzes you with fear because, what's going to take place? Is it going to happen in Halifax? Is it going to happen elsewhere?"

The sentiment is echoed by Mohamed Yaffa, an Imam at the centre.

"Our fear is that this will become a trend," he told CTV News on Tuesday.

"This is the country where everybody comes for safety. So, if it happens here, at this level of aggressiveness, it is very scary. We don't know what to do. We don't know, we have nowhere to go."

Both men say years of right wing rhetoric by some media outlets and politicians have normalized Islamophobia to certain parts of the population.

"Some leaders also that have come and gone, have had this very anti-Muslim stance, and words actually affect people." said Khan, in a veiled reference to former U.S. president Donald Trump.

After being largely out of the spotlight for six months, Trump appeared at a rally in Greenville, N.C., on Saturday, repeating many of his well-worn messages and themes to a cheering crowd.

Other religious leaders are expressing shock and sadness about the incident.

"I think, like all Canadians, I was horrified to think that such an atrocity could take place here in Canada," said David Deane, an associate professor at the Atlantic School of Theology.

"I don't often agree with Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, but I think when he said that's it's a rise of growing Islamophobia in the West, I probably agreed with him."

Deane said pandemic has probably played a role in exposing what he called the "fractures in our social order."

"All the toxic pathologies that have been lying underneath the surface, are now coming up to the surface, and Islamophobia, xenophobia, and of course racism are core elements of these toxic pathologies. And so, while they may have been veiled in more comfortable times, during COVID they're coming to the surface in a really, really sinister and disturbing way."

Two online fundraisers for the boy and the extended family had topped $850,000 early Tuesday afternoon, and many Canadians had reached out to local Mosques, offering sympathy and support.

Muslims are appreciative, said Yaffa, but notes there's a double standard in the way such stories are viewed and perceived.

"The media, the leaders have to do better," he said.

Khan agrees.

"If a Muslim was mentally unstable, he would be called a terrorist. But if somebody else is mentally unstable, well, he's just mentally unstable. So, I think whether we're the victim or the agressor, we have it bad both ways."


Editors note: after the airing of Tuesday night's story, CTV Atlantic received the following statement from the Imam Council of Nova Scotia

The Imam Council of Nova Scotia and members of the Muslim community are aggrieved by the mass murder of a Muslim family in London, Ontario. The truck-ramming attack claimed the lives of four and sent a nine-year old to the hospital with injuries.

This senseless act puts all Canadians in danger and speaks to the tenacity and depth of Islamophobia and Racism in Canada.

As federal, provincial and municipal governments and politiciens unite in condemning this heinous act, it is time to realize the need for policies and stiff penalties for violent Islamophobia and other acts motivated by hate.

Meanwhile, as we collectively struggle to make sense of this, we must understand that decades of the media's ugly portrayal of Muslims, the lack of hate crime legislation and the existence of hate based bills in Canada, such as Bill 21 in Quebec, fuel Islamophobia.

It is heartwarming to see the outpouring of support from everywhere, but without a true willingness of our politicians to act, we fear more of this will happen in the future.

We send our deepest condolences to the victims' family and close friends and the Muslim community of London.

To reduce and discourage such disposable act in Nova Scotia, the Council is asking our Provincial government for two things:

1. That the Legislature provide or adopt a clear definition of Islamophobia, under which perpetrators may be prosecuted.

2. Thar a strong reporting system is created with a clear mandate of taking immediate action when there is a report of Islamophobia.

We urge Nova Scotians and all Canadians to learn about each other and be merciful to one another, which underlies our strength and our multiculturalism.

Finally, in solidarity with a family and a nation that is mourning the loss of precious innocent lives, the Council will join a vigil organized by the Ummah Masjid and Community Centre on Wednesday tomorrow at 7 pm. The address is 6225 Chebucto Road, Halifax.