Multi-faith march held in London, Ont. to honour victims in Sunday’s attack, call for end to Islamophobia
Published Friday, June 11, 2021 5:08PM EDT
Thousands of people marched through the streets of London, Ont. Friday evening to honour the victims killed in an anti-Muslim attack earlier this week and call for the end of racism and Islamophobia.
The march, organized by community faith leaders, began at 7 p.m. at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads.
It is the same area where Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman, their nine-year-old son, and Afzaal's 74-year-old mother Talat Afzaal, who were out for an evening walk, were struck by a man driving a pickup truck Sunday evening.
The nine-year-old boy was the only person who survived.
The driver, a 20-year-old London man, is facing four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
London police had said the family was intentionally targeted because they were Muslims. Police would not specify why they believe the attack was hate motivated but said they gathered evidence "from a variety of sources."
Sunday's attack reverberated across Canada, with many calling political leaders to act and end Islamophobia.
Ahead of the march, one of the organizers, Rev. Canon Kevin George with St. Aidan's Anglican Church, said he hopes the event will send a message that love will always overcome hate.
"The single act of terror and violence and hatred that took place in our city on Sunday night is not reflective of what you see here today on this same street corner. What you see is that people have a heart for love, for compassion for care for justice," George said.
"Do we have issues we need to work through? Sunday night should be an open opening for us to understand that that's incredibly necessary. It's broken us and, in our heartbrokenness, now we have the opportunity to have real, honest conversations and focus on how we can carry ourselves forward and show London, Canada, the world that we can do better than what we're doing."
People chanted and carried signs that read, ‘We Stand with #OurLondonFamily’ and ‘We pray for our London family’ as they made their way to the London Muslim Mosque, where the march concluded.
Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal said the community is still in pain, but the overwhelming support they have received in the past few days has made a difference in helping the community heal.
"This is really a beginning for us in terms of the long road ahead and the work that needs to be done to be able to end the various forms of hatred that still exist within our communities," he said.
"The show of support of all of the different faith leaders is to be able to impart that message that this is about our common humanity. And we need to work diligently to be able to realize, to come to that reality of having societies and communities where there is no hate. But we need to start with ourselves. It's about looking in the mirror and checking. Do we have a sense of arrogance thinking that we're better than somebody else, because of our skin colour, because of our faith tradition, because of our ethnicity? That is something that we need to uproot from our own hearts."
Another member of the city's Muslim community said he is heartened to see the display of solidarity, compassion and love.
He called racism another pandemic plaguing society and said political leaders need to take concrete actions to address it.
"This is the time when we have to step up and has to be a sustained, comprehensive, organized effort. We will not sit down. We will not lie down any more until this pandemic is eradicated and the vaccine for it is love, unity, understanding each other."
At the mosque, a moment of silence was observed and faith leaders spoke to the crowd, urging them to keep the fight against racism and Islamophobia.
There were also vigils held across the Greater Toronto Area Friday evening in solidarity with the family.
FAMILY RELEASES STATEMENT
Hours before the march, the Afzaal family released a statement and said they are grateful for the outpouring of support they have received from Canadians and people around the world in the wake of the attack.
"Our peace was shattered on the evening of June 6, when our loved ones were targeted in a hate-driven terrorist attack in London, Ontario," the statement read.
"Hatred has no place in this world and CANNOT be tolerated in Canada. We have full confidence in the Canadian justice system to handle this matter to the fullest extent of law."
The family went on to express their gratitude to the first responders, hospital staff, neighbours, friends, and all the thousands who attended Tuesday's vigil.
"This is the Canada that we know and that we love."
The family also provided an update on the condition of the boy, who they say is 'recovering well' with loved ones by his side.
A private funeral is set for Saturday and the family is asking the media and the public for privacy.
"We will dearly miss our beloved mother, cherished brother, his adored wife and darling daughter. With their exemplary characters, their deaths will continue to illuminate the world and show that acceptance, justice, and tolerance will always triumph over hate," the statement read.
"The acts of one and the ideals of a few do not define a nation or a religion. The actions of the whole speak for the country."