A crowd of several thousand gathered Tuesday evening in London, Ontario, for a wake in honor of four members of a Muslim family mowed down by a driver, an act described as “terrorist” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and who revived the debate on the rise of anti-Muslim violence in this country long known to be tolerant and open.
On a hot summer evening, thousands of people of all backgrounds and religions gathered outside the main mosque in this southern Ontario town, where the tragedy sparked emotion and anger. within the Muslim community, and a surge of solidarity among the general population.
Representatives of the Muslim community called for action against “hatred” and “Islamophobia”, a message echoed in unison by the leaders of the five political parties represented in the Ottawa House of Commons, all present at the ceremony.
“Canada is not immune”
“You are not alone, all Canadians are in mourning with you and are by your side tonight,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who laid a wreath at the entrance to the mosque.
Earlier, in a speech in the House of Commons, Justin Trudeau assured that “this killing was not an accident. It was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities ”.
The author of the attack, arrested shortly after the facts, had darkened Sunday evening on a family which was waiting to cross at a crossroads, making four dead and one seriously injured, a nine-year-old child, now an orphan. The man, who is due to appear before a judge on Thursday, has been charged with premeditated murder.
“They were all targeted because of their Muslim faith,” said Justin Trudeau. “It’s happening here in Canada and it must stop,” he added.
The Prime Minister recalled that Canada had experienced in recent years, and in particular since the shooting at the Quebec mosque which killed six people in 2017, an increase in “acts of hatred and racism” which have tarnished its image as a openness and tolerance towards minorities.
“We must be aware that Canada is not immune to this kind of intolerance and division that can be seen elsewhere in the world,” warned the head of government during a press briefing.
Like the opposition and many leaders of the Muslim community, he acknowledged that many Muslims live in fear in Canada.
Insecurity and fear
“Today, non-Muslim Canadians are discovering, sometimes for the first time, the insecurity and fear in which Canadian Muslims live when they go out,” he noted.
He called on his fellow citizens to “actively fight to push back against ignorance and intolerance”, if only by giving a smile to the next Muslims they meet.
In particular, he promised to strengthen the fight against online hatred, to better protect places of worship or to track down far-right racist groups, as the government had done at the beginning of the year by adding the organization of “Proud Boys”, a “neofascist” group, on its list of terrorist entities banned in Canada.
London police claimed on Monday that the suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, 20, had deliberately attacked a Muslim family with his pickup in a “premeditated and planned, motivated by hate” act.
The attack claimed the lives of three generations of the Afzaal family, originally from Pakistan: Madiha, 44, an environmental doctoral student, her husband Salman, 46, their daughter Yumna, 15, and the grandmother, 74, according to a family statement. The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously injured, but his life is not in danger.
It also rekindled the painful memory of a mass shooting in a Quebec mosque in January 2017, considered one of the worst attacks of its kind in a Western country, before that of Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.
A Canadian supremacist, Alexandre Bissonnette, then 27, opened fire on the faithful gathered at the Quebec mosque, killing six people and seriously injuring five others. The gunman was sentenced to life in prison.
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