Yellowknifers rally for victims of hate-motivated attack in London, Ont.

·3 min read
Residents, both young and old, held signs that honoured the victims of Sunday's attack in London, Ont., and decried Islamophobia and the existence of hate in Canada. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
Residents, both young and old, held signs that honoured the victims of Sunday's attack in London, Ont., and decried Islamophobia and the existence of hate in Canada. (Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

Yellowknife sent its love across thousands of kilometres to London, Ont., on Thursday night.

A couple hundred people gathered for a vigil in Somba K'e Park to mark the deaths of four family members killed Sunday in what police call a hate-motivated attack, and to decry the existence of Islamophobia and hatred in Canada.

"Muslims are struggling with how to reconcile this horrific incident with the Canada they know and love," said Nazim Awan, chair of the ISNA Islamic Centre of Yellowknife.

The country, he said, has darkness in both its past and present.

A couple hundred people gathered for a vigil in Somba K'e Park in Yellowknife on Thursday.
A couple hundred people gathered for a vigil in Somba K'e Park in Yellowknife on Thursday.(Liny Lamberink/CBC)

"The belief that one people is superior to another ... this type of thinking is the root cause of these incidents," he told the crowd, drawing comparison between the attack, the discovery of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school site, and violence against Black communities.

"I'm saddened, disgusted, and fearful that we've made so little progress."

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 pickup truck drove into them while they were out for an evening walk. The youngest member of the family, Fayez, nine, survived.

Investigators say the driver of the truck targeted the family because they were Muslim. He's been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

A young child holds a sign with the message 'Islamophobia kills' during a vigil in Yellowknife' for the victims of the attack in London.
A young child holds a sign with the message 'Islamophobia kills' during a vigil in Yellowknife' for the victims of the attack in London.(Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Muhammad Ali, vice president of the Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, said the attack led to a difficult phone call with his son.

"He was asking me, 'Dad, are we supposed to stay in and not go out anymore?'

"The answer is you cannot hide because we are not intimidated by any form of terror or any form of oppression. Go out, and there are so many people out there who will love you."

Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Canada Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, said he's disgusted Canada hasn't made more progress when it comes to combating racism.
Nazim Awan, chair of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Canada Islamic Centre of Yellowknife, said he's disgusted Canada hasn't made more progress when it comes to combating racism.(Liny Lamberink/CBC)

But not everyone feels safe.

"I do feel kind of uncomfortable being out here, just today," said Hunaifa Malek, a university student who grew up in Yellowknife.

The fear came, she explained, after reading Islamophobic and racist comments on social media.

"I had a little cry at my desk yesterday at work, the weight of it was really hitting me," she said.

The N.W.T.'s Minister of Health and Social Services, Julie Green, was one of many political and organizational leaders to speak at the vigil.
The N.W.T.'s Minister of Health and Social Services, Julie Green, was one of many political and organizational leaders to speak at the vigil.(Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Malik supports the National Council of Canadian Muslims in their call for a national summit on Islamophobia, but would also like to see education rolled out locally to teach people how to speak out against racism and microaggressions.

"We do have problems in Canada. We do have problems in the Northwest Territories and Yellowknife, and people need to have conversations," she said.

Thursday's event drew a number of different political and organizational leaders, including Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty, Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green, Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya, Yellowknives Dene Chief Ed Sangris and the Yellowknife RCMP's detachment coordinator, Insp. Dyson Smith.

Three people hold each other while listening to speakers condemn racism and express support for the Islamic communities in Yellowknife at Thursday's vigil.
Three people hold each other while listening to speakers condemn racism and express support for the Islamic communities in Yellowknife at Thursday's vigil.(Liny Lamberink/CBC)