Vigil in Canada for 4 Muslim family members helps 'heal' community: Imam

By Barry Ellsworth

TRENTON, Canada (AA) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and political leaders joined with thousands of others Tuesday in a vigil for four members of a Muslim family who went out for a Sunday evening walk in London, Ontario and died when a man deliberately drove his half-ton truck into them.

Condemned as a "terrorist attack" by Trudeau, it also robbed the lone survivor of the incident — a 9-year-old boy — of his parents, sister and grandmother. He has been left an orphan, but an imam, or Muslim religious leader, said at the vigil that the members of the London community "are his family" now.

Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal's 74-year-old mother, Talat, were killed, while Fayez Afzaal remains hospitalized with serious but non-life threatening injuries.

Police say the 20-year-old driver was motivated by hate.

People gathered at vigils in other communities, including Ottawa and Toronto, but it was the scene of the tragedy that was the center of the ceremonies. People lined the streets leading up to the London mosque where the event was held and hundreds gathered, not just to mourn the lives lost, but to show support for the Muslim community.

Imam Aarij Anwer said the coming together was important for the Muslim community "to heal, [to] see the compassion of our neighbors."

Trudeau arrived at the vigil and laid flowers on the steps of the mosque from where speakers addressed the crowd. The leaders of the other four federal political parties and Ontario Premier Doug Ford also attended.

Mosque chairperson Bilal Rahhal echoed the feelings of many.

"This is my city, this is my country, as it is your city and your country," he said. "We are not going to let hate…divide us."

Speaker after speaker appealed for not only words of grief but action to combat Islamophobia and other racist attitudes.

Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal called for all Canadians to make a "solemn promise…to fight the scourge of racism."

Nusaiba Al-Azem from the London mosque joined others in calling for "an immediate action summit on Islamophobia."

Trudeau, addressing the crowd after several other speakers, said Canadians must "stand together" against the scourge of hate.

"Islamophobia is real, racism is real," he said. "You should not have to face that hate."

New Democrat Party leader Jagmeet Singh said authorities know that much of the problem lies on the internet.

"We have to be serious about fighting hate online," he said.

But words are not action, and many community speakers called for an immediate summit on Islamophobia.

The London vigil was carried live by Canadian television stations and on news websites.

The suspect, who is in custody, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.