Hundreds of mourners attended a funeral on Saturday for a Canadian Muslim family days after they were run over and killed by a man in London, Ontario, in what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a "terrorist attack, motivated by hatred". The victims, 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were on an evening walk on Monday when the driver of a pickup truck struck them at an intersection. The sole survivor was the couple's nine-year-old son, Fayez, who was seriously wounded but was expected to recover.
Police said it was a planned and premeditated act that targeted Muslims.
Everyone who knew the Afzal family knew “the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” an earlier statement from the extended family said.
“They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with their spiritual identity."
On Saturday afternoon, grieving mourners led four caskets draped in Canadian flags to the front of the public funeral ceremony, which was followed by a communal Muslim prayer. A closed, private service is set to be held later in the day.
“It’s beyond words”, Ed Holder, the mayor of London, told CBC News before the ceremony began. “This is too heartbreaking, to see three generations of a family just wiped out like that. We’re trying to comprehend the incomprehensible."
Thousands of people gathered on the streets of London, Ontario, on Friday for a Multi-Faith March to End Hatred, to show solidarity with the family and demand action from the government to root out hate crimes, while vigils were also held in other Canadian cities.
On Wednesday, Trudeau told parliament: “This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities.
“If anyone thinks racism and hatred don’t exist in this country, I want to say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say “Islamophobia isn’t real?"
Trudeau said that the killing was no accident and "many Muslim Canadians are scared, adding that words matter and in part blamed rhetoric, disinformation and extremism online and in politics.
“They can be a seed that grows into an ugly, pervasive trend. And sometimes, they lead to real violence”, the prime minister said.
The 20-year-old suspect, named as Nathaniel Veltman, made a brief virtual appearance in court on Thursday to face four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Veltman said he was still in the process of retaining a lawyer and has yet to enter a plea.
Police said Veltman did not know the victims. Detective Supt. Paul Waight said it was not clear if he belonged to any specific hate group, but that local police were working with federal authorities to investigate potential terrorism charges. He said the attack was planned.
Canada is generally welcoming toward immigrants and all religions, but in 2017 a French Canadian man known for far-right, nationalist views went on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people. “Canada is not immune to the kind of intolerance and division we have seen elsewhere in the world,” Trudeau said.
In 2017, six worshippers were killed and another 18 wounded after a gunman stormed and opened fire at a mosque in Quebec City, in an attack that shook the nation and spurred questions about Islamophobia in Quebec as well as in Canada as a whole.