Hundreds attend anti-Islamophobia march in London, Ont., in memory of Afzaal family

Hundreds of people joined a march to commemorate the Afzaal family and to fight against Islamophobia in London, Ont., on Sunday afternoon, including the prime minister.

More than 1,000 people met at Oakridge Secondary School to listen to speeches before walking to the London Muslim Mosque. It’s part of ongoing commemorative events this week to mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of the Afzaal family, who were killed in a hate-motivated attack while out for a walk on June 6, 2021. 

“They were our friends,” said Aisah Rashid, who marched with her family. “The events planned today and tomorrow are helping with the healing process, because it has been a really, really difficult year for the Muslim community across the globe, but particularly in London, Ont.”

Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife, Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, died when a driver hit them as they waited to cross a road. The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

Hundreds of people took over the field at Oakridge Secondary School in London, Ont., on Sunday to show solidarity for the Muslim community and to remember the Afzaal family killed in a hate-motivated attack. (James Chaarani/CBC)

The man accused has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges. 

Friends of Yumna, who was in Grade 9 at the high school where people gathered Sunday, organized the march to commemorate the teen and to show solidarity. This past year, as part of their grieving processes, they formed a group called Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia (YCCI). 

“The significance of it is really reclaiming the streets and having a presence in the community and giving the rest of London the opportunity to show their solidarity again,” said organizer Selma Tobah with YCCI.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with youth organizers and thanked them for their work to combat Islamophobia. He told them his government is investing in a new Anti-Racism Strategy and a National Action Plan to Combat Hate. (Talia Ricci/CBC)

Thousands of people, including politicians of every stripe, descended on London to march in the same event last year. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came back Sunday in a surprise visit, meeting first with youth organizers inside the school’s library.

He thanked the students for their work fighting Islamophobia and said he is honoured to join the community for this event. He said his government has done some work to address Islamophobia and racism in Canada, but there is a lot more work to be done.

“Our government is investing in the launch of a new Anti-Racism Strategy and a National Action Plan to Combat Hate. We’re also launching a process to appoint Canada’s first Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia,” Trudeau said.

Parents Sarah Atiq and Aisha Rashid, who marched on Sunday, say this past year has been extremely difficult. They say they lost their sense of security in London, Ont. (James Chaarani / CBC News)

But Esa Islam, a cousin to the Azaal family, took to the podium ahead of the march and scolded politicians for what he called “unfulfilled promises” and “hollow words of sorrow.” 

“Do we not remember Bill 86, the [Our London] Family Act?” the Grade 9 student asked the crowd, referencing a provincial bill drafted by the NDP, in conjunction with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, to curb Islamophobia.

It feels there’s still an unwillingness from our leaders to take action against hate and Islamophobia– Esa Islam, cousin to Afzaal family

The bill did not pass before the legislature dissolved ahead of last provincial week’s election. Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have not made any commitments to reviving it.

“We still have no commitment from the provincial government to pass it,” Islam said. “So despite all the promises we had last year, it feels there’s still an unwillingness from our leaders to take action against hate and Islamophobia.”

The march drew people from across London, Ont., who were affected by the violence last year. (Talia Ricci/CBC)
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