LONDON, Ont.- Speaking to thousands of Muslim community members and fellow mourners in London, Ontario, Tuesday, Justin Trudeau promised “action” on anti-Muslim hate after a family was run over and killed in what the prime minister called a terrorist attack.
However, his statement came only hours after he avoided an opportunity to strongly condemn a Quebec law that has been widely criticized for specifically discriminating against Muslims.
The family, Salman Afzaal, 46, Madiha Salman, 44, Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Syed Afzaal, 74, were killed after a man ran them over while they were out taking a walk Sunday evening. They are survived by 9-year-old Fayez Afzaal, who is now an orphan.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Police said they believe the alleged killer was motivated by hate towards Muslims.
At Tuesday’s vigil, held at London Muslim Mosque not far from the crime scene, leaders, including Imam Aarij Anwer, called for an immediate national summit on Islamophobia. Others called for Islamophobia to be criminalized.
Trudeau told the crowd, “Islamophobia is real, racism is real. You should not have to face that hate in your communities, in your country. We can and we will act.”
He said there were “no words that can ease the grief of having three generations murdered in a neighbourhood.”
The prime minister pledged that “together we will take action. We will find a way forward.”
However, he offered no specifics, nor did he respond to the call for the national summit on Islamophobia.
Earlier on Tuesday at a news conference, Trudeau stopped short of saying Quebec’s Bill 21—legislation that bans civil servants in the province, including cops, government workers, bus drivers, lawyers, and teachers from wearing religious symbols like the hijab—fosters hatred.
The law, which was passed in June 2019, has been heavily criticized as violating religious rights, particularly for Muslims. Even though Quebec’s Superior Court agreed that Bill 21 violated people’s rights, it upheld it earlier this spring because Quebec applied the Canadian constitution’s notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to violate many rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
While polls show most Canadian disapprove of Bill 21, it is very popular in Quebec, a vote-rich province that is key to the federal Liberal’s hopes of establishing a majority government in the next election.
Bill 21, which was successfully campaigned on by the conservative Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party in the 2018 provincial election, came shortly after a deadly attack on Muslims in the province.
In January 2017, a young, white man opened fire at a Quebec City mosque, murdering six Muslims, and seriously injuring five others, including a man who was left paraplegic.
At Tuesday’s vigil, Singh, who received much louder applause than Trudeau, listed out several concrete policy ideas for combatting anti-Muslim hatred, including fighting hate online, where many people are radicalized, and giving more funding to fighting hate. Singh also said, “Never again should any political leader use Islamophobia for political gain.”
Under Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative Party aggressively tried to ban niqabs among federal government employees and during the 2015 election vowed to open a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline, which was heavily criticized as a dog whistle targeting Muslims.
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