Remembering the Afzaals: London marks a neighborhood tragedy

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Londoners are coming together Monday to remember the Afzaal family on the first anniversary of a hit-and-run crash that killed four members of the London Muslim family in a collision police allege was deliberate, the family targeted because of their faith.

Publishing date:

Jun 06, 2022  •  3 minutes ago  •  8 minute read Maria Ur Rahman (foreground) and Sabena Islam admire artwork during the launch of a community art gallery dedicated to the Afzaals at the London Muslim Mosque on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press)

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Londoners are coming together Monday to remember the Afzaal family on the first anniversary of a hit-and-run crash that killed four members of the London Muslim family in a collision police allege was deliberate, the family targeted because of their faith. Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their daughter Yumnah, 15, were struck by a vehicle while out for an evening walk near their Hyde Park home on June 6, 2021. The family’s young son, Fayez, now age 10, was the only survivor. Six community events are planned Monday, part of a week-long memorial to the family and call to action against Islamophobia.

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6 p.m.

Preparations were kicking into high gear at a stage set up where the western side of South Carriage Road meets Hyde Park Road at the scene of last year’s deadly crash.

One of the people in the crowd of hundreds waiting for the vigil for the Afzaal family to begin was Huda Sallam, 15, a friend of Yumnah Afzaal’s since the two met as young girls in Grade 2.

“I’ll be delivering a speech,” said Sallam, the co-founder of the group sponsoring the vigil, Youth Coalition Combatting Islamophobia.

“I was asked to speak at a personal level about what the last year has been like for me,” she said.

Those who knew Yumnah say she was “friends with everybody,” said Jenna Khorshed.

The official unveiling of the Our London Family memorial plaza is to follow.

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4 p.m.

Dozens of community members gathered at the London Muslim Mosque for the launch of an art exhibit dedicated to the Afzaal family.

“There’s no better way to showcase this family than through this artwork,” said Nusaiba Al-Azem, second vice chair of the mosque, referring to a mural at the Islamic school in the mosque painted by 15-year-old Yumnah Afzaal.

“It really tells us a story of a family that’s so supportive of their daughter,” Al-Azem said. “It also tells a story of the community . . . (trying to make) sense of what happened.”

On a different floor of the mosque, front and centre on a main wall of the temporary gallery, is a piece by Toronto-based artist Amer Sal Mohammed that depicts Yumnah putting the finishing touches to the mural she painted with help of her mother in the summer after Grade 8.

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The exhibition features pieces by Yumnah’s art teacher and classmates at Oakridge secondary school, along with works commissioned by White Oaks Mall and Masonville Place mall and by artist Jan Neville.

The exhibition is open to the public daily from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. until June 30.

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1:30 p.m.

Federal Housing, Diversion and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen announced that the Liberal government will begin its search for a special representative to help combat Islamophobia in Canada. The move is in response to one of the recommendations that came out of a national summit on Islamophobia held last July in the fallout of the Afzaal family tragedy.

“Today, I announced that applications are open for the role of special representative on combatting Islamophobia,” Hussen tweeted Monday. “We know that more work needs to be done, and this is a critical step for our future.”

Hussen’s announcement comes one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to London to meet with the youth organizers of a march for the Afzaal family.

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1:05 p.m.

Wearing green and purple ribbons and Our London Family pins, hundreds of students at Oakridge secondary school took to their school’s football field on Monday for a walk in honour of the Afzaal family. Yumnah Afzaal was a Grade 9 student at Oakridge. All schools in the Thames Valley District school board took part in  15-minute walks Monday to reflect on the family and draw attention to Islamophobia. Schools in the London District Catholic school board also participated in the memorial walks, inspired by the neighbourhood walk the Afzaals never got to complete when they were struck at the intersection of Hyde Park and South Carriage roads last June 6. 

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Students at Oakridge high school, the school Yumna Afzaal attended, have begun to gather for a walk honouring #OurLondonFamily. Schools across #LdnOnt are holding similar marches to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of the Afzaal family, killed while out for a walk. pic.twitter.com/PHu300bY7I

— Juha Jonathan (@JuhaatLFPress) June 6, 2022

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Students stream out of Oakridge secondary school Monday afternoon to participate in a march marking the one-year anniversary of the deaths of four members of the Afzaal family, including Yumnah, 15, who was a student at the west-end school. Police allege the family was targeted in a hit-and-run crash on June 6, 2021, because of their Islamic faith. DALE CARRUTHERS / THE LONDON FREE PRESS Students stream out of Oakridge secondary school Monday afternoon to participate in a march marking the one-year anniversary of the deaths of four members of the Afzaal family, including Yumnah, 15, who was a student at the west-end school. Police allege the family was targeted in a hit-and-run crash on June 6, 2021, because of their Islamic faith. DALE CARRUTHERS / THE LONDON FREE PRESS

1 p.m.

London’s newest community garden was dedicated to the Afzaal family in a moving ceremony in Maple Grove Park on Monday afternoon.

The community garden is an ode to the Afzaals, especially Salman Afzaal and his wife Madiha Salman, who were avid gardeners.

Ten garden beds are planted full of purple and green plants – from petunias to young tomato plants to dill – the colours often used to honour Our London Family, a nickname for the Afzaals. Green is an anti-Islamophobia awareness colour, while purple was Yumnah Afzaal’s favourite hue.

“This is also a food garden and it’s a way to give back to the community,” said Rumina Morris, head of city hall’s anti-racism department.

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“A community garden also represents hope,” she said.

The garden is accessible, built entirely with raised beds, and the mix that fills them includes compost from flowers left at the impromptu memorial site at Hyde Park and South Carriage roads last year, where three generations of the Afzaal family were killed while out for an evening walk.

“It’s our family, it’s our pain and it’s grief,” London West MP Arielle Kayabaga said during Monday’s ceremony.

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12:55 p.m.

London’s three New Democrat MPPs are calling on Premier Doug Ford to pass the Our London Family Act as soon as possible in the next legislative session.

“One year after the devastating loss of our London family, we should not still be waiting for Ontario to move beyond words to action,” Terence Kernaghan, Peggy Sattler and Teresa Armstrong wrote in a letter to Ford Monday.

“Every Muslim person needs and deserves to know that they are welcome, loved and safe in Ontario.”

The proposed legislation, which was introduced by the NDP last legislative session but died with the election call, was developed to fight Islamophobia in partnership with the National Council of Canadian Muslims. The landmark bill would have created safe zones around religious institutions, provided more education and tools for schools to fight racism, banned protests at Queen’s Park that incite racist, homophobic and other forms of hate and prevented white supremacy groups from registering as societies.

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The legislation would also have established a provincial review of hate crimes and hate-motivated incidents in Ontario and an an anti-racism council to provide input on government policies. It also called for more minorities to be hired for provincial jobs.

12:30 p.m.

In a statement Monday, Green Party leader Mike Schreiner expressed condolences to the London community and the friends of the Afzaal family.

Schreiner, the lone Green MPP in Ontario’s legislature, vowed to work with other parties to pass the Our London Family Act, an omnibus bill designed to combat Islamophobia named in honour of the Afzaal family.

“What happened a year ago in London was truly devastating. And it is the responsibility of all governments to take action to ensure that another tragedy like this never happens again,” Schreiner said in a statement.

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“I’m calling on Doug Ford to pass Our London Family Act with all-party support.”

11:30 a.m.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement on the Afzaal family tragedy, saying hate and discrimination have no place in the province.

“Today, as we continue to grieve this tragic and senseless loss, I join all Ontarians in honouring the memory of the Afzaal family,” Ford said in a statement.

“Our government will always stand with Ontario’s Muslim community. We remain steadfast in our commitment to fight Islamophobia and defend everyone’s fundamental right to practice their faith free of fear, intimidation and violence.”

An NDP-sponsored bill to combat Islamophobia in Ontario, the Our London Family Act, died in committee when the most recent provincial election was called. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have not committed to passing the proposed legislation, which calls for changes to school curricula, more diversity in the Ontario public service and more accountability on hate crime reporting.

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11 a.m.

London Health Sciences Centre marked the anniversary of the Afzaal tragedy with an event to honour the family and combat Islamophobia in the community.

LHSC chief executive Jackie Schleifer-Taylor began the morning meeting for LHSC staff, volunteers and community leaders with a moment of silence.

Mayor Ed Holder thanked LHSC staff for the work they do caring for Londoners, including the members of the Afzaal family who were rushed to hospital after last year’s hit-and-run crash.

“What you all do is so much beyond words,” Holder said Monday. “I need to say thank you for caring for London, in the most sincere way possible, even in the most difficult circumstances.”

Holder urged Londoners not just to measure progress against Islamophobia “on the anniversary of what our city’s darkest hour” but to put in the work every day to make the city a safe and welcoming home for everyone.

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9 a.m.

Dozens of mourners gathered for a morning prayer service at the Islamic Cemetery in south London in honour of the Afzaal family.

Relatives and other members of the Muslim community laid flowers at the graves of the three generations of the Afzaal family – Talat Afzaal, 74, her son Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their daughter Yumnah, 15 – who were struck by a vehicle last June 6 at Hyde Park and South Carriage roads while taking a walk in their neighbourhood.

The sombre prayer service was held under overcast skies, as the sun peeked through the clouds.

Two police patrol cars were parked a block away from the south-end cemetery on White Oaks Road.

7 a.m.

There are six memorial events planned for Monday, including prayer services, a community garden dedication and a community vigil. London city hall has put out a complete list of commemorative events happening today and this week.

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SUNDAY

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with student organizers of a march to commemorate the first anniversary of the crash that killed four members of the Afzaal family. Speaking to the crowd of about 2,000 before the march, Trudeau urged them to think about Fayed Afzaal, the sole survivor of the alleged hate-motived attack that killed his parents, sister and grandmother.

More than 2,000 people joined together to march from Oakridge secondary school – where 15-year-old Yumnah Afzaal was a student – to the London Muslim Mosque. We spoke to some participants about what the march meant to them.

ICYMI

As we did during that grief-filled week a year ago, The Free Press turned over its comment pages to the local Muslim community again. One year on, friends of the Afzaal family and local Muslim leaders reflect on the traumatic and enduring loss and our path forward as a community.

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