The line outside London Muslim Mosque on June 8 was thousands of people long, trailing down the southwestern Ontario city’s Oxford Street. But people weren’t there to pray or celebrate. They were there to mourn and remember the Afzaal family, four people killed and one child injured in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called a "terrorist attack." Mourners held signs denouncing Islamophobia at the socially distanced event, during which some donned green and purple ribbons meant to symbolize the fight against Islamophobia.
The vigil took place two days after the family — Salman Afzaal, 46, his mother Talat Afzaal, 74, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their two children, 15-year-old Yumna and nine-year-old Fayez — were struck by a car after a 20-year-old driver jumped the curb. Police say that the attack was planned and the family was targeted for their faith. London police are reportedly working with the RCMP on potential terrorism charges against suspect Nathaniel Veltman. He has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Speaking at the vigil, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said: “We will not let terror win,” and called out the need for tangible action over words. “How many more lives have to be taken before we act? How many more Muslim brothers and sisters have to lose their lives before real change is put in place? We need real action.” Picking up on the calls for action, Trudeau said: “Islamophobia is real, racism is real. You should not have to face that hate in your communities, in your country. We can and we will act.”
Across the country, Canadians expressed shock and horror at the violent killings, asserting that racism has no place in this country and that the killings aren’t reflective of Canada as a whole. At the same time, activists and members of marginalized communities a simultaneously expressed what many have known to be true for years: Racism is inherently a part of Canada's history and present and these types of terrorist acts very clearly do — by virtue of happening over and over in this country — reflect it. As many pointed out online, several of the politicians who expressed condolences, like former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole, have attempted to back (or in some cases, block) legislation, the passing (or not-passing) of which has negatively affected Muslim Canadians. Meaning their words of condolence rang false for many. (O’Toole and Harper have not publicly responded to these comments.)