Fear and anger in Canada after Muslim family is killed: ‘How many more people have to die?’
As thousands of people gathered outside Canada’s second-largest mosque in London, Ontario, Reina Persaud was watching her niece and other children chalking brightly-coloured hearts all over the road.
The “pathway of hearts” was a tribute to the Afzaals, a local Muslim family, who every evening would take a walk around the neighbourhood, greeting neighbours and friends – and who were killed on Sunday in what police have described as a premeditated attack motivated by Islamophobia.
Members of three generations of the family died when a 20-year old man ploughed his pickup truck into them: Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, Salman’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74. The couple’s son, Fayez, nine, remains in the hospital.
On Tuesday night, crowds of mourners – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of all of Canada’s political parties – attended the vigil to honour the victims and protest against hate.
Persaud, daughter of a Chinese-Filipino mother and an Indian father, said she was there because she had experienced racism in London all her life and so had all her patients – two of whom were crying in her office earlier in the day. “I’m scared for them,” she said. “I’m scared because they can’t be who they want to be out of fear.”
She was surrounded by Canadians of all ethinicities and creeds. Sikh men handed out cold water bottles on the hot and humid evening. The blue flag of the Métis Nation soared overhead. A little girl in a printed abaya moved through the crowd holding a sign reading: “I am Muslim. I am Proud.”
Many women wore traditional dress in honour of the Afzaal women; others wore purple headscarves – Yumna’s favourite colour.
The vigil started with the Muslim call to prayer, which – for the first time in Canadian history – was aired on national television. A moment of silence was held at 8.40pm, the exact time the Afzaal family was killed during their evening walk.
The suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.