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Canada's Muslims renew calls to tackle Islamophobia one year after deadly attack

Canadian government is taking applications for an anti-Islamophobia envoy, following advocacy efforts from Muslim communities
Women pray ahead of an event marking first anniversary of the killing of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario, Canada on 5 June 2022.
Women pray ahead of an event marking first anniversary of the killing of the Afzaal family in Canada's London, Ontario, on 5 June 2022 (Reuters)

On the one-year anniversary of a deadly attack that killed four members of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario, Muslim community leaders are renewing calls for the Canadian government to tackle Islamophobia in the country.

On Monday, delegates met with parliament members in the capital, Ottawa, demanding concrete action to address Islamophobia and hate crimes, reaching all the way up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted a photo of a meeting with delegates from the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

The meetings between Muslim advocates and parliament members came a day after thousands took to the streets of London for a march to commemorate the anniversary of last year's killing of four members of the Afzaal family.

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Last June, Nathaniel Veltman, 20, deliberately slammed his pick-up truck into Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; his 74-year old mother Talat; and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna as they were waiting to cross the road. All four family members were killed, with the only survivor being the couple's nine-year-old son Faez.

The Toronto police chief said at the time that the victims were “targeted because of their Islamic faith”.

The attack placed the Muslim community in Canada in a state of fear, grief and anxiety, renewing the same sorrow many held in the aftermath of a deadly 2017 assault on a Quebec mosque that left six worshippers dead, and a fatal stabbing at another mosque in Toronto in 2020.

The attack, however, did not take place in a vacuum, according to members of London's Muslim community. In 2020, researchers found the number of hate groups operating in the country had tripled in recent years. Trudeau vowed to tackle the problem and held a national summit on Islamophobia in July 2021.

"This afternoon in London, thousands of people showed up to honour the Afzaal family; to be there for Fayez, who survived; and to march against Islamophobia," Trudeau tweeted on Sunday. The prime minister attended Sunday's march.

"In memory of #OurLondonFamily, we must keep working together and using every tool we have to combat this hatred."

Canada opens call for Islamophobia envoy

In response to calls from Muslim community leaders, the Canadian government has opened up applications for an envoy for combating Islamophobia, a role that would reach out to communities and advise the prime minister and the government on the best ways to fight hate against Muslims in Canada.

“It is impacting Muslim Canadians from across the country,” Minister for Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen said.

"The application process is open for anyone interested to fulfill the role," he continued. "They will issue recommendations and they will work tirelessly to promote work to combat Islamophobia."

Fatema Abdalla of the NCCM said the announcement is a step in the right direction, but added that more needs to be done to ensure better protection of Muslim communities.

“It’s about time that we see action,” she told CityNews.

"Security infrastructure program funding that allows for mosques and places of worship to better protect themselves."

The group is also calling for more action to tackle online hate, a national public education campaign on Islamophobia, as well as changes to the criminal code.

Last year, NCCM put forward a list of 61 recommendations to tackle Islamophobia in the country, including putting a pause on "Countering Violent Extremism" programmes that have been found to target Muslim communities.

The recommendations also include the development of a federal anti-Islamophobia strategy that includes a clear definition of Islamophobia by the end of the year and funding to help support victims of hate-motivated crimes.

Meanwhile, Veltman, the London attack suspect, is facing four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and terrorism charges. His trial is set to begin in September 2023, according to Canadian media outlets.