Wracked with grief, Sask.'s Muslim community to hold candlelight vigil after London attack

·4 min read
Wracked with grief, Sask.'s Muslim community to hold candlelight vigil after London attack
A memorial sits at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London, Ont., where after a family of five was struck by a truck two days earlier. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A memorial sits at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads in London, Ont., where after a family of five was struck by a truck two days earlier. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Members of Regina's Muslim community are preparing to host a candlelight vigil for the four members of a family who were killed this past weekend in what police have called a hate-motivated crime.

Police in London, Ont., say Yumna Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, died on Sunday after being struck while on a family walk by a truck driven by a man who allegedly targeted them for their Islamic faith.

One member of the family, nine-year-old Fayez, remains in hospital.

A 20-year-old man has been charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the attack.

What happened in Ontario, it could happen anywhere. - Haris Khan

Haris Khan is organizing the candlelight vigil, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. CST on Wednesday at the provincial legislature.

In an interview Khan said the attack has left him — a Pakistani Canadian Muslim — questioning his own safety for the first time in his life.

"It could have been me, it could have been my loved ones. They could have been targeted just because, you know... we are part of a visible minority," he said.

"What happened in Ontario, it could happen anywhere."

That sentiment has been echoed by multiple members of the Islamic faith in Saskatchewan.

Not an isolated incident

Fatima Coovadia said that she could see her own family in the members of the Afzaal family who were killed.

"Taking an evening walk is something that we love to do as a family. We often have my mom walking with us. And and so it really felt very close to home," she told CBC's Saskatoon Morning on Wednesday.

Coovadia said she has had frank and open conversations about Islamophobia and the reality of being Muslim in Canada with her children.

The conversations become all the more important after acts of violence like the one in London, or the the recent spate of violence against Muslim women wearing the hijab in Alberta, she said.

"It's necessary, unfortunately, given the climate that we're living in right now," Coovadia said.

Racialized members particularly vulnerable

Daniel Khulan is co-chair of the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan (IAS)'s media communications and outreach committee.

Khulan, who is white, said that he likely doesn't fit what some could consider as the stereotypical Muslim man.

But he said members of the community, especially those who are racialized, feel like there are targets on their back.

"I think there's almost this sort of constant radar that comes up just sort of assessing, 'is my situation safe,'" Khulan said.

LISTEN | CBC's Front Burner spoke with members of the Muslin community in London, Ont.

He said that Canadians must come to accept that events like the attack in London are not one-offs.

"We really have to have the courage to face reality for what it is and that means that we each have to examine some uncomfortable truths about what exists in our society," he said.

Support and condemnation from politicians needed

Khan said even talking about how members of the Regina community can work together and improve things has been met by hateful messages in his inbox, targeting him for his faith.

He's even received messages in the process of planning Wednesday's vigil. He said they illustrate why the event is important.

Local leaders and elected officials have been invited to the vigil to reassure the Muslim community in the province that they are supported.

"You can't kill innocent people just because you don't like their ethnicity or the background or you may have heard some wrong information about them," he said. "To all the politicians out there, please do condemn it, because if you keep silent, we know which side you're on."

The vigil in Regina comes a day after another gathering in the province to mark the attack.

On Tuesday, dozens of people honoured the Afzaal family in Saskatoon at an event organized by the IAS. Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper attended.

Residents are invited to attend Wednesday's vigil in Regina, but are asked to maintain social distancing, wear a face mask and follow public health guidelines.