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Afzaal family memorial part of London plan to 'disrupt' Islamophobia

08:49 03 February 2022 Author :  

A permanent memorial is proposed for northwest London to honour three generations of the Afzaal family killed there last year in what police allege was a targeted attack because of their Islamic faith.

A mural and a flower bed are part of a memorial plaza planned to honour three generations of the Afzaal family, killed in northwest London last year in what police allege was a targeted attack because of their Muslim faith.  

The memorial is just one element of a wide-ranging plan to address Islamophobia in London in the wake of the fatal hit-and-run June 6, 2021, at Hyde Park and South Carriage roads.

“Longstanding, in our community at that intersection, there will be an image that’s created by (Muslim) youth in honour of their friend lost and the family members that were taken,” said Rumina Morris, director of city hall’s anti-racism and anti-oppression division.

City council will be asked to spend $150,000 from a reserve fund to create the memorial plaza to honour the family: Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15, and Salman Afzaal’s mother Talat Afzaal, 74. The family’s nine-year-old son was the lone survivor.

A 20-year-old London man is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one account of attempted murder.

The plan to tackle Islamophobia goes beyond the mural and garden, stretching from policy demands to widespread education and awareness campaigns for children and non-Muslims across the city.

City hall released a 160-page report Wednesday detailing dozens of recommendations, and the road to reach them, including sessions with community organizations and Muslim Londoners across a variety of backgrounds and sects.

“Islamophobia is very much permeated within our structures and within our systems. If we don’t tackle it there, it’s very hard to come at it on the ground,” Morris said.

“People were not feeling safe as we started this process.”

London is home to a vibrant, longstanding community of more than 30,000 Muslims. But a recent study reported more anti-Muslim racism and harassment in the last three years, particularly for women who wear the hijab.

“ We’re trying to bring in all of the voices from within London, the Muslim voices, and amplify them throughout the community,” Ward 6 Coun. Mariam Hamou, the first Muslim woman to sit on London city council, said of the anti-Islamophobia working group that created the plan.

– Create an advisory council to the mayor to oversee and implement the plan to disrupt Islamophobia, with specific focus on a diverse range of Muslim voices, including women and youth

– Hire a Muslim community liaison adviser at city hall

– Tighten city hall’s public nuisance bylaw, modeled after one in Edmonton, to include offensive verbal harassment and xenophobic comments hurled in public

– Endorse recommendations from the National Council of Canadian Muslims and advocate for those priorities with the provincial and federal governments

– Develop a youth fellowship program to empower Muslim youth leaders

– Proclaim October as Islamic heritage month, June 6 as a day of remembrance for the Afzaals and Jan. 29 as the national day of remembrance for the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack and action against Islamophobia

– Dedicate funding for local campaigns to educate Londoners about Islam, Muslim leaders and Islamophobia.

The goal is to develop an implementation plan by the fall, including timelines, costs and the division of responsibilities.

“ A lot of communities are just endorsing the recommendations (from the National Council of Canadian Muslims) but not actually doing the work behind the recommendations. If other Canadian cities can see this — and they will — they can model some of the work we’re doing,” Hamou said.

“ It’s a really, really good document.”

Last weekend, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was in London to push for support for a bill — the Our London Family Act — the party plans to table when the legislature resumes this month.

The Our London Family Act is meant to address Islamophobia through changes to the education system, enhancements to the province’s anti-racism directorate and increasing the timeframe people have to file human rights complaints. The bill also calls for increased hiring of minorities in the provincial public service and more accountability on hate crime reporting and prosecution in Ontario.

City politicians will be asked to endorse the recommendations of the plan to “disrupt” Islamophobia at a meeting next Tuesday./ London free press 

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