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by Mona Awwad and Nandika Ravi 

Muslim communities across Canada are finding it difficult to come to terms with the horrific incident that transpired in London, Ontario last weekend, when five members from a Muslim family  were struck by a black pickup truck while waiting to cross the street, in what is being called a targeted attack. Four of the victims died.

Hundreds gathered at the location of the attack in northwest London, on Tuesday to drop off flowers and pay their respects at a vigil that was held for the family.

(From left to right) 15-year-old Yumna Afzaal,  Madiha Salman, 44, Salman Afzaal, 46 and Salman Afzaals’ mother, 74 were killed. The youngest member of their family, 9-year-old boy, was the sole survivor of this attack.

 

According to police, the attack was planned, premeditated and motivated by hate. The rising acts of crime against Muslims in the Canada are pointing at a bigger problem: Islamophobia among people across the country.  Human rights activist Fareed Khan has called on the Canadian government to take stronger action against hate crimes. Khan said the London attack is evidence that  white supremacy is still strongly prevalent in Canada.

“The perpetrator was a white man,”Khan said.

“He deliberately targeted the family. And according to the police in London, there is evidence to prove that. It shows that Islamophobia is alive and well and in fact, it has been growing.”

According to Statistics Canada, between 2018 and 2019, the number of police-reported crimes motivated by hatred of a race or ethnicity increased 10 per cent (793 to 876). Much of this increase was a result of more hate crimes targeting the Black and the Arab or West Asian populations (+35 incidents).

Infographic by Statistics Canada

 

“The pandemic of hate has been around a lot longer than covid-19,” Khan said.

“And it is affecting people of every background, not just Muslims, but black people, indigenous people, people of colour, Jews, LGBTQ people. It’s been around for a long time. The government needs to take a leadership role with programs that not only includes public education, but also giving the tools necessary to make it easier to charge people with hate crimes.”

While there was a decline in the number of police-reported hate crimes motivated by religion, hate crimes against the Muslim community rose by nine per cent in 2019.

The London attack reminded Canadians that members of the Muslim community face racism and bias on a daily basis, according to some of those who have been exposed to racist attitudes before. Khan pointed out that every person has a responsibility to reject racism, and in doing so they will contribute to the reassurance of the Muslim community.

“Actions speak louder,” Khan said.”I think that when people see hate and they should call it out wherever they see it against whoever is targeted, call it out and shut it down.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other party leaders gave statements in the House of Commons on Tuesday, calling the attack a “terrorist attack”. However, community activist Munir Elkassem feels that these statements aren’t enough.

“What we need is an action plan,’ Elkaseem said.

“Enough is enough, whether it is anti-semitism, whether it is Islamophobia, whether it is any transgression against indigenous communities. You know, people should feel safe to live in their communities.”