Hijab-wearing B.C. women say they fear being targeted by white supremacists after deadly London truck attack

·4 min read
Nadia Mansour,18, a University of Northern British Columbia student in Prince George, B.C., says she fears for the safety of herself, her mother and her sister who all wear a hijab. (Submitted by Nadia Mansour - image credit)
Nadia Mansour,18, a University of Northern British Columbia student in Prince George, B.C., says she fears for the safety of herself, her mother and her sister who all wear a hijab. (Submitted by Nadia Mansour - image credit)

A brutal act of hate that left four members of a London, Ont., Muslim family dead and a young boy orphaned has sparked sorrow and outrage across the country and among Muslim women who wear the hijab as a visible marker of their fate.

It is also causing many of them to fear for their lives.

On Sunday, four people — Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother — were killed when a black truck rammed into them as they were out on a family walk. The youngest member of the family, Fayez, 9, survived.

London police say they're considering laying terrorism charges for what they're calling a "planned, premeditated act" against a family of five "because of their Muslim faith."

Fatima Aziz, a Surrey mother of two young children, says she not only fears for herself as a hijab-wearing woman, but also that wearing her head covering could put her children's lives at risk too.

"We are walking targets for white supremacists," she said Wednesday on CBC's The Early Edition.

Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, right, were out for an evening walk when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate.
Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, right, were out for an evening walk when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Submitted by Afzaal family)

Aziz, who was born and raised in Canada, said she has experienced racism and micro-aggressions throughout her life because of her faith.

What happened Sunday, she said, has taken a toll on her mental health and she wants to see Canadian politicians do more than express their condolences.

"Our government must put an end to the rise of white supremacy like our lives depended on it because the truth is they do," she said.

Aziz wants a national action plan drawn up to tackle systemic racism in Canada and a plan to combat Islamophobia, specifically Islamophobic violence, with input from, and action items for, all levels of government.

She said a national registry of Islamophobic incident reports should also be created in order to hold perpetrators and investigators accountable.

Watch | Muslim women talk about being afraid to wear a hijab or niqab in Canada:

In Prince George, B.C., University of Northern British Columbia student Nadia Mansour, 18, is also calling on Canadian officials to crack down harder on Islamophobia.

A good starting place, she said, would be online where hate speech can flourish unchecked.

"Online is a huge platform where I feel like a lot of conversations are triggered or talked about where people feel safer to have these terrible conversations," said Mansour, speaking Wednesday on Daybreak North.

Mansour, who grew up in Prince George, said she has experienced discrimination in what she describes as a "more conservative town," but said the London attack shocked her and made her afraid not only for herself, but also for her mother and sister who also wear a hijab.

"That this is now a reason for me to deserve to die is suddenly a very scary phenomenon," said Mansour. "This is Canada. This is where I should be safe."

Hateem Amin attends the outdoor vigil in London, Ont., to honour her 15-year old friend Yumna Afzaal and her three family members who were run down by a truck in what police say was a hate-motivated attack.
Hateem Amin attends the outdoor vigil in London, Ont., to honour her 15-year old friend Yumna Afzaal and her three family members who were run down by a truck in what police say was a hate-motivated attack.(Mark Gollom/CBC)

Government commitments

A spokesperson for Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has said the government is drafting new legislation that will "ensure online platforms have a proactive duty to monitor and remove illegal content before it causes further harm."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking Tuesday in the House of Commons, also vowed to redouble the government's efforts to dismantle "far-right hate groups" that encourage such violent activity.

The federal government has also committed some $45 million to Canada's Anti-Racism Strategy, a program meant to counter racism and discrimination through an awareness campaign, civic literacy programming and funds for marginalized communities.

A memorial is pictured at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London, Ont., where a family of five was struck by a truck Sunday.
A memorial is pictured at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London, Ont., where a family of five was struck by a truck Sunday.(Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Help is a phone call away

In B.C., the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline can help Muslims who have been, or fear they could be the subject of discrimination and attacks. It's a service that connects people with free and confidential legal advice.

Lawyer Hasan Alam, the hotline's community liaison, says it can be a very helpful service for people who are not familiar with Canada's legal system or if English is not their first language. Alam said hotline staff can also connect people with professional counsellors.

"Sometimes, someone just wants to have their story heard," said Alam.

The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline can be reached at 604-343-3828.

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