On 6 June, four innocent lives were lost to a senseless act of terrorism in London, Ontario. 20 year-old Nathaniel Veltman mounted a curb and deliberately rammed his pickup truck into a Pakistani Canadian family. Two women aged 74 and 44, a 46-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl were killed on their evening walk because of a premeditated attack motivated by Islamophobia. Only the youngest family member, 9-year-old Fayez Afzaal survived. The attacker, Nathaniel Veltman, was found a few miles away from the crime scene. The Muslim community has urged officials to charge Veltman with terrorism. However, he has only been charged with four counts of murder and one for attempted murder so far.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the attack “an act of evil” at a vigil in the London Muslim Mosque, held in honor of the victims, and denounced it on Twitter, saying he was “horrified by the news.” He also expressed condolences “[T]o the loved ones of those who were terrorized,” and reassured them “we are here for you.” The Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford also acknowledged the attack, stating that “hate and islamophobia have NO place in Ontario. Justice must be served for the horrific act of hatred that look place in London, Ontario yesterday.” Ford also said his thoughts and prayers “are with the families and friends during this difficult time,” and that “[T]hese heinous acts of violence must stop.”
Many Canadian police forces have reported that Muslims are the second most targeted religious group in the country. While the frequency of hate crimes committed against most religious groups has decreased, those against Muslims only increased over time. Several incidents have occurred over the last few years, in which innocent Muslims were left seriously injured or hospitalized due to violent attacks motivated by Islamophobia. For instance, in 2013, six Muslim students at Queen’s University were attacked by four men with baseball bats on their way home. Another incident took place in 2016 when a student at Western University was physically attacked and suffered a severe concussion. However, the London attack has been the worst case of violence against Muslims in Canada since 2017, when 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette killed six worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City.
Members of the Muslim community have called for the formation of a National Summit on Islamophobia to take immediate action in dismantling violent and systemic forms of Islamophobia. Additionally, the Chief Executive of the National Council of Canadian Muslims has called for the government to take a closer look at educational systems and their role in producing anti-Muslim sentiments. Raising awareness about topics related to racism and discrimination against minorities is more important than ever. Educating young people in school about such important topics can be the first step in terminating the prejudices and negative biases targeted towards specific groups.
The media has “humanized” Veltman, leading many to notice the drastic difference between the treatment of white people and people of color in journalism. News channels have highlighted how Veltman had no ties to hate groups and possessed no previous convictions, even though the information does not justify his actions. Networks like the CP24 published pictures of Veltman running a Terry Fox marathon, which only feeds the narrative he was a regular man who loved sports, when he was actually a terrorist. Thousands of people on social media platforms have opposed the circulation of that image and many demanded for a mugshot instead. The National News Media Council of Canada, and other powerful figures in journalism such as the Canadian Association of Journalists should enforce their ethics guidelines more diligently. Such organizations and committees should use their authority to remove articles that sympathize with terrorists and prevent false information from spreading.
Canadians have bought the myth that that their country is racism free when this is far from the truth. Such attacks should be remembered when individuals discuss Canada and its diversity. The country prides itself on multiculturalism and openness to immigrants, while conveniently sweeping atrocities under the rug to maintain a false image. Unfortunately, racism and Islamophobia are baked into the country’s system. Simply acknowledging cases of violence are the bare minimum. To ensure the safety of all minorities, formal action needs to be taken to address the blatant discrimination people of color and religious minorities face.
The government should strengthen its ties with the National Council of Canadian Muslims and other Muslim led organizations by scheduling annual conferences. Such meetings can become a medium through which the government can review the numerous NCCM petitions and address matters which require immediate attention within the Muslim community. By attending such frequent meetings, the government would be able to connect with the Muslim community and become more aware of their needs through mutual understanding.
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