Looking back at the London Family Attack 2 years on

The progress towards addressing Islamophobia needs to keep pace with which hate is infiltrating our communities

3 min read
Looking back at the London Family Attack 2 years on

On the evening of June 6, 2021, 4 members of a Muslim family were massacred when a peaceful walk turned into one of the biggest hate crimes in Canada’s history. The Afzaal family, were on an evening walk in London, Ontario when a young, white supremacist boy rammed his truck offroad onto the family, killing Yumna Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, leaving a nine-year old boy of the family hospitalized with serious injuries and without a family. The incident led to an outpouring of anger and hurt in the Muslim community with determination for systemic uprooting of Islamophobia. Two years after the London Terror Attack, we reflect on the progress made towards eradicating Islamophobia and addressing hate crimes.

Soon after the attack, a National Summit on Islamophobia was called where the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and other community and advocacy groups tabled recommendations to all three levels of government for combating Islamophobia. The National Council of Canadian Muslims, Canada’s largest civil society group representing Muslims, also devised a model legislation called “Our London Family Act”. The Act is a comprehensive piece of legislation that calls for systemic rooting out of Islamophobia in the fields of education, reporting of hate crimes, white supremacist groups’ recognition, inclusion of minorities in Ontario’s public service, and security grants for places of worship.

While the Act has not been enacted yet in Ontario’s parliament, the movement it generated has catalyzed many policy measures. For example, in June 2021, Canada enlisted two white supremacist groups as terrorist entities, thereby banning them. Another major step was to appoint Amira Elghawaby as the special representative on combating Islamophobia, an entirely new public position at the federal level. After a series of recent attacks on mosques during this month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims, the Ontario government announced $25 million in funding for the Ontario Anti-Hate Security and Prevention Grant. This grant will allow mosques and other faith-based or cultural centers to get rebates on security measures such as hiring security guards. In the most recent move, the Ontario government has announced $500,000 in funding for London’s pilot public education program to address Islamophobia and hate.

While all these measures have been appreciated and widely welcomed by the Muslim community, there is no shying away from the fact that the incidence of Islamophobia has also increased. There was an attempt to run over worshippers in a Markham mosque while the same person also tore up the Islamic Holy Scripture before. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries but the stark similarity of this attack served as a reminder of the work that needs to be done to address Islamophobia. The outer wall of Towfiq Islamic center in Toronto was vandalized with Islamophobic words. A Muslim man was stopped from praying inside a VIA Rail Train Station.

In a Courtice High School, a copy of the Holy Quran was desecrated by a student inside the classroom while the teachers looked on. A hijab-wearing Muslim woman was threatened with a knife attack on the TTC Subway Station before running to safety. Horrifyingly all these incidents occurred in 2023 alone and yet, this list is non-exhaustive with so many more incidents that simply go unreported.

The progress towards addressing Islamophobia needs to keep pace with which hate is infiltrating our communities. Our leaders need to show more political will to ensure that Muslim communities live without fear and can practice their religion peacefully. This also includes negotiating with government measures that are outright Islamophobic such as Quebec’s notorious Bill-21 which bans religious symbols like the hijab, turban, and kippah in public service jobs or the recent decree by Quebec’s government which bans students from praying in public schools. The question we need to ask our politicians is for how long will they continue to ignore Muslims’ plight in Canada? How many families need to be torn apart before the real threat of Islamophobia is tackled? On this anniversary of the terrifying attack on #OurLondonFamily, we need to reaffirm our commitment to challenge Islamophobia and not shy away from the fact that it presents a very significant threat to many Canadians today.

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