The senseless attack on a Muslim family in London this week must be a loud wake up call for Canadians that Islamophobia is a serious and urgent problem that we must confront now.
We are sickened and shocked that one evil person would run down and kill Salman Afzaal and his wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna Afzaal and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother. Fayez Afzaal, the couple’s nine-year-old son, is the lone survivor.
The family was well known to the local Pakistani-Muslim community. Afzaal was a physiotherapist, Salman was close to completing her PhD in civil engineering, and Yumna just completed her first year of high school. The grandmother, the family matriarch, was known to enjoy their family walks.
Police believe it was a targeted attack. The Afzaals were out for an evening walk and were attacked and killed because they were Muslim. The driver struck them and then drove away as if their lives meant nothing.
Too many Canadians delude themselves in believing that hate, racism and discrimination do not exist here. Canada’s image as the ‘land of immigrants’ fuels this misconception and overlooks the hate crimes that immigrants in Canada are vulnerable to every day.
Sunday’s attack in southwestern Ontario, together with the Quebec City mosque shooting that claimed six lives in 2017, should shatter the myth that racism and hate are not serious problems in Canada.
The realities of life in Canada are different for Muslims, racialized and Indigenous people. They don’t see a land that is full of equal opportunity. They continue to face barriers when it comes getting jobs, health care and affordable housing. They can’t even be sure they can safely walk down a street. Canada has failed them and must do better.
These realities are even more devastating because it comes during a time when we should be united in getting through the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, we continue to see a rise in hate crimes, many of which are motivated by race and faith.
We call on all Canadians to acknowledge that all is not well in our country. Words and condolences are no longer good enough. We must call out Islamophobia and racism when we see it. We must all play an active role in changing the narrative to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard.
OPSEU/SEFPO will always speak out loudly and forcefully against the kind of cruelty we’ve seen this week. The courts will deal with the suspect facing charges, but this is a much bigger problem than one individual and we must continue to be a strong voice in fighting for change.
Our compassion and humanity must bring us together especially during dark times like these. We stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in their calls for justice.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer