The Telegram (St. John's)
Community groups, government officials call for action on hate speech after fatal attack on London, Ont., family
places a message on the “Family Friendliness Tree” that was set up at a vigil outside the Masjid-annoor Mosque on Logy Bay Road in St. John’s on Friday. About 125 people attended the vigil to show support for the Muslim community and express condolences for four members of a Muslim family were killed when they were run over by a truck in London, Ont., on June 6.
More than 100 people gathered for a vigil at the Masjid Al-noor Mosque on Logy Bay Road in St. John's on Friday to show solidarity with the Muslim community and send messages of condolence following last week’s attack in London, Ont.
On June 6, four members of the Afzaal family were killed when a 20-year-old man drove his truck into them, leaving only a nine-year-old boy alive. The man has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
After prayers, Dr. Mansoor Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, addressed the crowd in an impassioned speech.
“We are gathered here to remember the horrific terrorist (act and) heinous hate crime, which wiped out an entire innocent family, constituted of three generations, from the face of this Earth … mercilessly leaving behind a nine-year-old boy to face the harsh realities of life alone,” Pirzada said. “Imagine two days from now, on Father’s Day, your nine-year-old boy waking up, not only without his father, but only to find out his entire family has disappeared.”
Canada was once a beacon of tolerance and a fabric woven into a beautiful and colourful collage of races, religions and ethnicities, Pirzada said.
“Now, right in front our eyes, that very fabric of peace and harmony is being torn apart,” he said. “Now is the time to close down those social media portals spewing hate and bigotry. Now is the time to come together and pass legislation against Islamophobia. We must act now before it is too late and the menace of hate and Islamophobia engulfs the country into chaos and anarchy.”
Minister of Immigration, Skills and Labour Gerry Byrne echoed Pirzada’s comments, saying it is critical that the actions people take go beyond standing in solidarity.
“One of the key issues on the national scale is the control of hate speech,” Byrne said. “As a government, we can nurture and nudge and expect our federal partners to act on the broadcasting of hate on the internet … and through regular broadcast means.”
When people shun diversity, pathways for enabling bigotry are created, Byrne said.
“It cannot be allowed by the state. We have to act against it,” he said.
Mayor Danny Breen said he strongly feels gatherings such as Friday’s vigil shouldn’t be necessary in 2021.
“It shows us that we need to stand together, develop a true understanding of Islamophobia as unacceptable racism,” Breen said. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and the community in London, Ont., who experienced this horrific act, which is drawing attention to the important work that needs to be done to ensure that this never happens again.”
Before concluding, biographies of the family were read in the hope they will be remembered for the great things they achieved in their lives and what they contributed to their community, rather than being remembered only as victims.
Madiha Salman, 44, worked on the removal of toxic industrial chemicals from soil and groundwater while studying for her master’s degree in environmental engineering at Western University. Her innovations are still used in the field today.
Salman Afzaal, 46, was a physiotherapist and dedicated Muslim who loved cricket and table tennis, and treasured his garden. He was known as a sweet and gentle man by his friends and colleagues.
Friends and family described Talat Afzaal, 74, as the matriarch who supported her family in all their pursuits.
Yumna Salman, 15, was a Grade 9 honour-roll student, who was described as an extremely sweet, outgoing and supportive friend.