Trudeau denounces truck attack that killed Muslim family members
Thousands of mourners gather for a vigil in Ontario's London on Tuesday night
An attack that killed four members of an immigrant family has shaken Canada and was denounced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called it a terrorist crime directed at Muslims.
Two parents, two children and their grandmother were on an evening walk when the driver of a pickup truck struck them at a junction in London, Ontario.
The sole survivor was a boy, 9, who was admitted to hospital.
“This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,” Mr Trudeau told Parliament.
“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?'"
The victims’ extended family identified the dead as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15; and a grandmother, 74, whose name was withheld.
The boy was identified as the couple’s son, Fayez. Friends said the family migrated to Canada 14 years ago.
Many Canadians have been enjoying evening walks to get fresh air after long days at home during the pandemic, Mr Trudeau said.
“But unlike every other night, this family never made it home,” he said. “Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly and brazen act of violence. This killing was no accident.
"Canadians are outraged by what happened on Sunday. And many Muslim Canadians are scared.”
Mr Trudeau said words mattered and in part blamed hate speech, disinformation and extremism online and in politics.
“They can be a seed that grows into an ugly, pervasive trend," he said. "And sometimes, they lead to real violence."
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter that the attack revealed the growing Islamophobia in western countries.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, was arrested in the parking lot of a nearby mall. He was facing four counts of first-degree murder.
Police were inside the suspect’s London apartment on Tuesday. They said Mr Veltman did not know the victims.
Det 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 possible terrorism charges.
Mr Waight said the attack was planned.
Mr Veltman worked part time at an egg farm in nearby Strathroy, Ontario.
The chief executive of Gray Ridge Eggs, William Gray, gave no details about Mr Veltman’s job.
Mr Gray said the company was “shocked and saddened” by the attack, and he expressed sympathy for the victims’ relatives and the Muslim community.
Arman Moradpourian, who worked with Mr Veltman, said he never imagined his colleague could do something like this.
“Not Nate,” Mr Moradpourian told Global Television. “He was a quiet, friendly, home-schooled Christian kid.”
Everyone who knew the Afzal family knew “the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis", 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.”
A fundraising webpage said the father was a physiotherapist and cricket enthusiast, and his wife was working on a doctorate in civil engineering at Western University in London.
Their daughter was finishing ninth grade and the grandmother was a “pillar” of the family, the page said.
Thousands of mourners including Mr Trudeau and the leaders of all of Canada’s political parties attended a vigil on Tuesday night at the mosque the family attended.
Pandemic restrictions were eased to allow mourners to attend the outdoor vigil.
“There are no words that can ease the grief of having three generations murdered in their neighbourhood,” Mr Trudeau told the crowd.
“There are no words that can undo the pain and yes the anger of this community. There are no words that can fix the future of that little boy who has had his future taken away.
"But know this: you are not alone. All Canadians mourn with you and stand with you.”
Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal of the London Muslim Mosque said he hoped the vigil would be a pivotal moment for his community and country in the fight against racism and discrimination.
“Every single one of us need to do our part,” Mr Twakkal said.
Rauf Ahmad and three friends earlier in the day watched the growing tribute at the junction.
“I didn’t think there was racism in Canada and I felt very safe when I came here two years ago, but I do not feel safe now,” Mr Ahmad said.
“Humanity is first. We should not care about whether someone is a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian.”
Near the crash scene, Zahid Khan, a family friend, said through tears: “They were just out for their walk that they would go out for every day. I just wanted to see.”
Mayor Ed Holder said flags would be lowered for three days in London, which he said has between 30,000 and 40,000 Muslims among more than 400,000 residents.
Canada is generally welcoming toward immigrants and all religions but in 2017 a French Canadian man known for his far-right, nationalist views went on a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque, killing six people.
“Canada is not immune to the kind of intolerance and division we have seen elsewhere in the world,” Mr Trudeau said.
Updated: June 9, 2021 09:11 AM