On 6 June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed in London, Ontario. Madiha Salman, 44, her husband Salman Afzaal, 46, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal, their 9-year-old son Fayez Afzaal, and Mr Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother were on an evening walk in their neighbourhood when the pick-up truck veered onto the pavement at an intersection along Hyde Park Road, striking the family and leaving their 9-year-old son as the sole survivor.
The attacker was arrested at a local shopping centre about 4.8 miles from the crime scene and was identified as 20-year-old Nathanial Veltman. He was seen wearing body armour and has since been charged with four counts of murder as well as one count of attempted murder. Steve Williams, chief of the London, Ontario police service, commented that the attack was intentional and that the family had no relation to their attacker. Instead they were targeted because of their Islamic faith. Ed Holder, Mayor of London, Ontario, commented:
“This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred.”
The Afzaal family had moved to Canada from Pakistan 14 years ago and have since been deeply involved in their community and faith. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, commented on the attack, stating that Veltman’s actions revealed “the growing Islamophobia in western countries”.
One in five of the residents of London in Ontario have been born outside of Canada with Arabs making up the largest minority group and South Asians coming in a close second in terms of numbers. Yet while the city has been getting increasingly diverse, from 2015 to 2019, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) has documented more than 300 incidents of deliberate Islamophobia which included over 30 counts of physical violence. One of the most recent cases was the 2017 shooting in Quebec City where six Muslims were killed and five seriously injured at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre.
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, denounced the attack and tweeted that he was “horrified by the news”. He stated:
“If anyone thinks racism and hatred don’t exist in this country, I want to say this: how do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say, ‘Islamophobia isn’t real’?”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) have since stated that Nathaniel Veltman must face terrorism charges for his actions, calling it a “terrorist attack on Canadian soil”. In his statement, Ed Holder, Mayor of London, Ontario, announced that the flags outside London City Hall will be lowered for three days of mourning to honour the Afzaal family. Justin Trudeau observed a minute of silence, and a socially distanced vigil has been planned for Thursday 10 June 2021 at the London mosque the family used to attend.
Friends of the family as well as members of the community have since set up a makeshift memorial with flowers in order to honour the family. Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal remains in hospital and is slowly recovering from the severe injuries of the attack, yet this horrific act of terrorism has made him an orphan.