Police in the Canadian province of Ontario say a driver intentionally struck a family because they were Muslim, killing four people and seriously injuring a nine-year-old boy in what has been denounced as an “act of unspeakable hatred” and Islamophobia.
The victims, all members of the same family, were hit on Sunday evening while waiting to cross a street in the city of London, about 200km (124 miles) southwest of Toronto, Canadian news outlets reported on Monday.
Police said the victims were two women aged 77 and 44, a 46-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl. A nine-year-old boy also was seriously injured and is recovering in hospital. Local authorities did not release the names of the victims.
“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate. It is believed these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” London Police Service Superintendent Paul Waight said during a news conference, as reported by CityNews.
The attack came amid rising concerns about Islamophobic attacks in provinces across Canada and widespread calls for authorities to tackle racism, hate-motivated violence and the prevalence of far-right groups.
I’m horrified by the news from London, Ontario. To the loved ones of those who were terrorized by yesterday’s act of hatred, we are here for you. We are also here for the child who remains in hospital – our hearts go out to you, and you will be in our thoughts as you recover.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 7, 2021
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “horrified” by what he described as an “act of hatred”, and said his thoughts were with the victims’ loved ones, including the young boy who survived.
“To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop,” Trudeau tweeted.
A 20-year-old suspect identified as Nathaniel Veltman has been arrested, local police said in a statement earlier on Monday. He has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, Global News reported.
“There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims,” Waight said.
‘Sorrow will run deep’
Qazi Khalil, a friend of the family, told The Canadian Press news agency that he last saw them on Thursday. “This has totally destroyed me from the inside,” Khalil said. “I can’t really come to the terms they were no longer here.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, a national advocacy group, said it was “beyond horrified” by the deadly attack.
“This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such. We call on the government to prosecute the attacker to the fullest extent of the law, including considering terrorist charges,” the group’s CEO, Mustafa Farooq, said in a statement on Monday.
“This loss of a family, the loss of a child in our community because of Islamophobia – this is a sorrow that will run deep for a long time. But let that sorrow be the ground where we stand for justice, and stand for change.”
Statistics Canada said in March that police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims “rose slightly” to 181 incidents in 2019 – the last year for which the data is available. That is up from 166 incidents the previous year.
In recent months, Muslim women in the province of Alberta have been targeted in several incidents of verbal and physical abuse.
In September, 58-year-old Mohamed-Aslim Zafis was fatally stabbed outside a mosque in Toronto’s west end where he worked as a caretaker. That spurred calls for authorities to take the threat of far-right violence more seriously and to investigate the attack as being hate-motivated.
Muslim communities in Canada also are still reeling from a January 2017 mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec City that killed six Muslim men and injured several others.
Three days of mourning
London Mayor Ed Holder said he ordered flags outside city hall lowered for three days of mourning. “Let me be clear: This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims — against Londoners — and rooted in unspeakable hatred,” Holder said in a statement.
“This act of unspeakable hatred, this act of Islamaphobia, [sic] must be followed by acts of compassion, acts of kindness, acts of empathy, acts of solidarity – justice – and, above all else, love.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford also tweeted his condolences on Monday. “Hate and Islamophobia have NO place in Ontario. Justice must be served for the horrific act of hatred that took place in London, Ontario yesterday,” he wrote.
BREAKING: The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is beyond horrified and demands justice after the horrific hate-motivated car attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario who were out for a walk on Sunday evening. pic.twitter.com/o1wXqjpnRb
— NCCM (@nccm) June 7, 2021
Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s minister of national defence, said he was “devastated to learn of the four Muslim Canadians killed in London, Ontario in a despicable Islamophobic attack”.
“Three generations of a family gone in an instant. This pervasive hatred is far too common in our country. We need to come together to end hatred in all its forms.”
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), also condemned the attack. “They were murdered because of their faith,” Singh wrote on Twitter. “More than ever we must stand w/ our Muslim family, friends & neighbours against such vile hate.”