Calgary mayor mourns fatal attack on Muslim family in Ontario, urges Calgarians to fight racism

·3 min read
'They went for a walk on a Sunday night, like many of us do, and they were targeted because of their faith,' Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press - image credit)
'They went for a walk on a Sunday night, like many of us do, and they were targeted because of their faith,' Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press - image credit)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is condemning as terrorism what police say was a hate-motivated attack Sunday on a Muslim family in London, Ont. He implored Calgarians on Tuesday to take more action against racism.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Afzaal, and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother — whose name has not been confirmed by CBC News — were killed after a truck slammed into them as they took an evening walk on Sunday.

The youngest member of the family, Fayez, 9, survived, but as of Monday remained hospitalized in serious condition.

A memorial grew in the hours after a Muslim family was killed on Sunday evening in London, Ont. Police believe their killing was motivated by anti-Muslim hate.
A memorial grew in the hours after a Muslim family was killed on Sunday evening in London, Ont. Police believe their killing was motivated by anti-Muslim hate.(Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Police say the driver of the truck, who was arrested about 10 minutes from the scene the same evening, planned the attack and targeted the family because they were Muslim.

"Another act of anti-Muslim terrorism occurred right here on this land. A grandmother, a mother, father, teenage daughter — all gone," Nenshi said.

"They went for a walk on a Sunday night, like many of us do, and they were targeted because of their faith."

Islamophobia getting worse, Nenshi says

Instead of offering kind words, Calgarians need to consider what anti-racist actions they can take, Nenshi said.

"Don't tell me your thoughts are with the Muslim community," said Nenshi, who in 2010 became the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city.

"Tell me what you're going to do about racism in this country — particularly those of us who are lucky enough to have a microphone."

Sunday's attack was not only a Muslim tragedy, but a Canadian one, Nenshi said.

And since a gunman attacked a Quebec mosque and killed six people in 2017, Islamophobia in Canada has gotten worse, he said.

'Let's not pretend we're shocked by this'

Nenshi cited Bill 21, Quebec's secularism law that prohibits public teachers, as well as government lawyers and other civil servants, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Despite protests from civil rights groups and religious minorities, it was passed in 2019 and faced four lawsuits that claimed it violates the Constitution.

Muslim and Sikh teachers testified that the law derailed their careers and made them targets of bigotry.

Demonstrators stand outside the courthouse on the first day of the constitutional challenge to Bill 21 before the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal in November 2020.
Demonstrators stand outside the courthouse on the first day of the constitutional challenge to Bill 21 before the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal in November 2020.(Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Closer to home was an attack on a woman in March, who was beaten and had her hijab torn off in Prince's Island Park, Nenshi said.

"So, let's not pretend we're shocked by this," Nenshi said. "Let's not think that this is unthinkable that this happened on our soil."

Calgary police said last week that say they have heard from several cultural and racialized communities who are worried about their safety and well-being after a series of hate-motivated attacks.

"When we allow these acts to go forward, when we spend a day debating whether we should call something terrorism, which it clearly is … we're complicit," Nenshi said.

"When we march in an anti-mask rally, no matter how we feel about masks, that has tiki torches and racists at the front — we're complicit.

"So let's spend a minute in silence, mourning that beautiful family, and also rededicating ourselves to fighting racism wherever we see it."

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