THUNDER BAY – This past Sunday night, Yamaan Alsumadi and her family went out for a walk, a chance to enjoy an unusually warm Thunder Bay evening.
About 1,550 kilometres to the southeast, in London, Ont., another Muslim family had the same thought, but instead of returning home safely, they were plowed down on the sidewalk by a hate-filled 20-year-old, whose ties to the alt-right are alleged to have convinced him to target and kill an innocent family for their beliefs and background.
Four people died that evening – Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, and Salman’s mother, 74-year-old Talat Afzaal. Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal remains in a London hospital in serious condition.
“It could have been me,” Alsumadi said, joining about 175 others Wednesday night at a vigil held in memory of the London hit-and-run victims.
“It was a really nice day. That same evening, my parents and I went out on a stroll. We’ve been in this pandemic and it’s the only thing we can do outside of our house, so it could have been me. That was the biggest impact. I can’t prevent it, a car or a truck that big. It’s too close to home.”
For Thunder Bay Mosque Imam Hikmatullah Sherzad, Sunday’s tragedy was an all too familiar tragedy, one that plays out time and time again on Canadian soil.
Speaking to the crowd gathered at Waverly Park, Sherzad said he pulled the speaking notes he read from four years ago after six people were killed by another white supremacist at a Quebec City mosque, words he kept hidden away in a shoe box.
An attack against any human is an attack against humanity, he said. An attack against any Canadian is an attack against all Canadians.
They were words he hoped never to have to read aloud again.
“I hope and pray the next time I take (the note) out is to tell my grandchildren that this is something we left in 2021.”
It’s a déjà vu feeling, he said.
“It’s not necessarily a surprise. But of course these things fall on a spectrum and this is on the pretty extreme side of the spectrum.
“You can have hope, what’s the alternative, right? Are we damning ourselves that this is our fate? I think Canada itself, whether it lives up to it or not with the governance and the people, we have high ideals and those ideals we try to live up to. Sometimes we fall short, and sometimes we fall short in pretty drastic ways.”
Shadiya Aidid, who helped organize and read a poem at the Thunder Bay vigil, said it’s devastating to see hate crimes continuing in Canada today. She pointed to attacks on Muslim women in Alberta and the Quebec killings still fresh in her mind some four years later.
Islamophobia has been pushed by media and by politicians, and more importantly, by a growing number of ideologues, she said.
“It’s state mandated and is unfortunately is also within some people have dedicated themselves to the alt-right and pushed the rhetoric that Muslims are evil and different and other, even though we’ve been in Canada for a very long time and our religion does nothing but express peace.”
Health Minister Patty Hajdu was among a number of dignitaries, including Mayor Bill Mauro, who spoke at the vigil.
She said there is no place for hatred in this country. It has to stop.
“People are worried about their safety. They’re worried about their children. They’re questioning about whether or not they should go for a walk. This is an act of hatred. It’s an act of terrorism. It’s meant to intimidate and terrify people – and it’s had that effect.
“Politicians like me and all levels of leadership need to stand up and say it’s not OK, stand up and say we’re going to fight back and really be responsible with the way that we talk about all kinds of issues in a way that does not undermine people’s human rights and dignity.”