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It’s been 6 months since members of the Afzaal family in London, Ont., were killed. What’s changed?

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Six months ago, members of the Afzaal family of London, Ont., were out for a walk when a truck jumped the curve and ran over them in a deadly attack that devastated the Muslim community.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman Afzaal’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed June 6. The couple’s son, Fayez, 9, was treated and released from hospital. 

Two days after the attack, 10,000 people gathered in support of the family, and politicians from all levels of government spoke outside the London Muslim Mosque at the special vigil.

“We need to work every day to ensure Ontario is a safe and inclusive home for everyone who lives here,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford on June 8.. “I want every single Muslim family to know that we’re with them, we’ll always have your backs.”

In the same vein, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Together we will take action. Together we will find our way forward.”

Aarij Anwer, director of religious affairs at the London Muslim Mosque, says he’s encouraged politicians are now willing to name Islamophobia as a Canadian problem, but is disappointed there’s been little action to tackle it. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

But how much has changed since June 6?

“There’s this underlying sense that all the things that were said on that day were just words and didn’t really mean much beyond words,” said Imam Aarij Anwer, the London Muslim Mosque’s director of religious affairs.

Anwer said he’s encouraged politicians are now willing to name Islamophobia as a Canadian problem, but he’s disappointed there’s been so little action to tackle it, despite July’s national summit.

“It cements in the hearts of the people, the thought that our government doesn’t care for us. They don’t care enough for us to act, even after four of our community members were murdered in cold blood in broad daylight,” said Anwer.

“It makes us wonder, ‘Do we belong here?’ That sentiment is now simmering in the community.”

Why hasn’t London done more?

Last month, The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) released the Our London Family Act, model legislation for all levels of government. It outlines how it wants governments to combat Islamophobia.

Among the recommendations, it asks municipalities to:

  • Provide dedicated funding for local community-based anti-Islamophobia initiatives. 
  • That mayors to build Anti-Islamophobia Advisory Councils.
  • Dedicate specific funding for anti-Islamophobia public awareness campaigns.

“The City of Brampton has passed those recommendations from NCCM,” said Anwer. “But the City of London has not done so unfortunately.” 

St. Catharines, Ont., has also endorsed the municipal recommendations.

“What does that say about how our politicians see us as a community?” said Anwer.

Nawaz Tahir, a London lawyer and chair of the Muslim advocacy group Hikma, wants the justice system revamped to address hate crimes and violence against women. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Siham Elkassem, whose research focuses on the trauma faced by racialized children and youth, spoke about why words don’t always translate into action.

“This sense of amnesia sets in after communities experience abhorrent forms of racism and oppression,” said the London clinical social worker, who’s also a PhD candidate at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

“We quickly forget.”

Elkassem wants governments to spend more money to help those victimized by racism who worry for their personal safety.

“We need more money. Often times there are promises, but we don’t see it on the front lines. Specifically in schools. The majority who perpetrate anti-Muslim racism are actually under the age of 18.”

Siham Elkassem, a graduate of King’s University College’s social work program and current doctoral candidate at Memorial University, studies the impact of Islamophobia on children and youth. (Submitted by Siham Elkassem)

Nawaz Tahir, a London lawyer and chair of the Muslim Advocacy group Hikma Public Affairs Council, wants the justice system revamped.

“Hate crimes and violence against women are two of the most underreported crimes in society,” he said. “Our justice system is really ill equipped to handle both kinds of crimes, and so we really need to make changes.

“In that perspective, we have a long way to go.”

London Morning17:30Six months since the Afzaal family tragedy

London Morning was joined by Nawaz Tahir, Siham Elkassem and Aarij Anwer to discuss the events and the aftermath of the tragic deaths of four members of the Afzaal family in what police call a hate-motivated attack on June 6. 17:30

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