the senate — London, Ontario--Victims of Tragedy

Tributes

June 8, 2021


Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
[14:06]

Honourable senators, I’m so very sorry to have to rise today to speak to the murder of four people and the serious injury of a child — three generations of one family — that occurred in London Sunday evening.

As the Prime Minister stated earlier today in the other place, this was “a brutal, cowardly and brazen act of violence. . . . a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred . . . .”

This family was targeted because of their faith. I’m at a complete loss to establish what motivates a person to hate so much that ending the lives of complete strangers simply seems acceptable. It’s so difficult to find the right words without sounding predictable. We have to find the right words far too often. That, in and of itself, is incredibly sad.

We are Canadians. We are seen and we see ourselves as a welcoming and tolerant country, which is why acts like this strike us to our core. It should not be happening here. Violence in the name of hate is intolerable, and it must never be allowed to take root in this country.

There will be a vigil this evening in London, and I truly hope it will bring a small measure of comfort to the Muslim community in the city knowing that their fellow Londoners stand with them.

The hashtag of the Green Ribbon Against Islamophobia campaign is #Hatewillneverwin. I echo that sentiment.

I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife Madiha Salman, 44; their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Afzaal; and Salman Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother. I also offer our support to Muslim communities across this country. Our thoughts are also with Fayez Afzaal who is recovering and must now learn to live without his immediate family. It is heartbreaking. No person, however young or old, should ever fear for their safety simply because of their faith or their beliefs.

Honourable senators, we are each responsible, one for the other, for the treatment of our fellow citizens. Let us do all we can. Let us do our utmost to ensure that Canada will always be a welcoming and safe country. Thank you.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[14:09]

Honourable senators, I also rise to speak about the tragedy that occurred in London, Ontario, this Sunday evening.

A 74-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man, a 44-year-old woman, a 15-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy were the victims of a driver who deliberately struck them down with his truck. All the family members died except for the young boy who remains in critical condition in a London hospital. This violent act of mass murder was motivated because of the family’s Muslim faith. It is a heartbreaking incident on every front.

This family deserved to be able to walk through their community in safety, in peace and without worry. Like all Canadians, they deserved freedom of conscience and religion. Their Muslim faith alone put targets on their backs for someone who wrongfully and shamefully believed this family did not deserve these freedoms.

As the Mayor of London, Ed Holder, said Sunday, it was certainly a dark day in Canada.

Colleagues, Islamophobia has no place in Canada. Violent acts of terror have no place in Canada. Racism has no place in Canada. Yet this incident reminds us that these dark evils persist in our society. Sometimes they persist under the surface, but on Sunday, they were expressed in a horrific act of violence that has surely left Muslim Canadians with increased fear for their own lives, doubt of their acceptance in their own country and deep grief.

The Conservative senators stand with the Muslim community in this time, and we express our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the victims. Our hearts go out to the family’s son, who remains in hospital, and we pray that he will fully recover and be surrounded by love as he begins to take in how his life has changed.

We reaffirm our commitment to build a country that is free from hatred, where Canadians of all faiths can live without fear of violence or persecution and where Canadians feel no fear to worship in the public sphere, no fear when entering a mosque, no fear when wearing the expressions of their faith and certainly no fear when going on a walk with one’s family.

As parliamentarians, let us mourn this tragic event and grieve with those who are grieving. As Erin O’Toole said in his speech this morning in the other place:

Our first duty as political leaders is to ensure the security of our citizens. To ensure that Canadians can be free to live, work and pray as they wish.

May we all recommit ourselves to standing for freedom of religion in Canada to ensure the security of all of our citizens.

Thank you.

Hon. Yuen Pau Woo
[14:12]

Honourable senators, this chamber is expressing yet again our shock and sorrow at another instance of horrific racism in our country. Even calling it “horrific” is an understatement, because what happened in London, Ontario, on Sunday was a brutal and seemingly deliberate murder of four Canadians for what appears to be no reason other than the fact that they were Muslims. Salman Afzaal and his wife, Madiha Salman, were killed along with their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Afzaal, and Mr. Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother. Their 9‑year-old son, Fayez, is in serious condition. He will likely recover, but his life has been forever changed.

Even as I stand before you to condemn this blatant act of hate, I’m wondering how many more times we must replay this depressing tune before we can put an end to violence against minority groups.

The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind; it is staring us in the face. Racism and hate are always founded upon false narratives and half-truths, and they are often propagated, not necessarily by out-and-out racists but by establishment sources such as mainstream media, academics and the political class.

In the case of Islamophobia, it starts with the denial by many that there even is such a thing. And yet, we have seen a rise in anti-Islam sentiment since the advent of COVID-19. In Edmonton, six weeks into the lockdown, a man sat in his vehicle outside the oldest mosque in North America, the Al Rashid Mosque, running what he called a “Ramadan Bomb-a-thon,” which he broadcast on social media. A few months later, a Quebec man had charges brought against him in connection with hundreds of online posts he made calling for the deaths of all Muslims. Mosques have been increasingly vandalized as a means of spreading fear. The Muslim Association of Canada’s Masjid Toronto has seen six major incidents at both of its locations since the start of the pandemic.

Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton was targeted with neo-Nazi graffiti, and four men were accused of public urination at the Islamic Society of Markham.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that a family of Muslims out for an evening walk in London, Ontario, would be mowed down because of who they are? If we happen to be bystanders at a hit-and-run, we would no doubt report the incident to the police. Senators, we are bystanders to persistent racist innuendo against Muslims and other minority groups in our country. It is well and good to call out these slurs in the echo chamber of our upper house, but we should be calling them out everywhere. Assalamu alaikum.

[14:16]

Honourable senators, on Sunday, here in our own peaceful and democratic country, a family out for a walk lost four members — three generations — murdered because of their Muslim faith. On behalf of our group, I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to those who knew and loved the victims, and who grieve with the lone survivor, a 9-year-old boy. Our hearts break for him.

Let us also take this moment to call this for what it is: a hate crime. It is Islamophobia.

We understand that London’s Muslim community is struggling right now, grappling with this sense of vulnerability. It’s also rallying around the family, which is one that any community would be proud of. Together as Canadians, we must confront hate and take action so that no Canadian, no fellow citizen, feels unsafe because of what they believe. Thank you.

Hon. Jane Cordy
[14:17]

Honourable senators, on behalf of the Progressive Senate Group, I would like to add our voice to those who are mourning this unconscionable loss.

The burden of grief is too high for too many. We cannot continue this way. When a family can no longer feel safe going for a walk in their own community — in their own neighbourhood — because of their faith and identity, that is a problem that must be addressed with immediate and concrete actions.

So many of us believe that violence fuelled by this kind of hate and cowardice has no place here in Canada. But the horrific events that unfolded on Sunday evening in London, Ontario, show us that we still have so much work to do to combat Islamophobia and the destruction it causes.

Three generations — three generations of a family — have been unfairly killed, and a 9-year-old boy has been left behind in hospital. This immense loss reflects upon us all.

Like the news last week about the 215 residential school children, we should be heartbroken but, sadly, not shocked. Members of religious and minority communities have been subjected to these kinds of targeted acts of violence for too long. If we do not want these events to define us as a nation, we must commit to change. We must call out hate and prejudice when we see it, and we must not let these attitudes go unchallenged.

Honourable senators, we must be at the forefront of fighting hate and discrimination.

On behalf of the Progressive Senate Group, I offer our condolences to the family, friends and neighbours of the Afzaal family. To the Muslim community, we would like to pledge our support and our promise that we will continue toward eliminating the hate and prejudice that has once again left you in mourning. We grieve with you, and we stand with you. Thank you.