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Relatives of family killed in London, Ont., truck attack worry about more hate, call for humanity

Hina and Ali Islam don’t say the name of the white nationalist who drove his large pickup truck into members of their family.

“The killer tried to divide us, to isolate Muslims, that was his intention and what I saw instead was humanity coming out. People from different colours, faiths, walks of life, hugging us, coming to support us. I wish we can take that momentum and continue it forward,” said Hina Islam, whose niece Madiha Salman, 44, was one of four people killed when the driver steered toward a Muslim family on June 6, 2021 in London, Ont. 

Also killed that day was Madiha’s husband, Salman Afzaal, 47, the couple’s daughter, Yumnah, 15, and Salman’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74. The couple’s son, a nine-year-old boy, was seriously injured and survived.

Nathaniel Veltman, 22, was found guilty last week of four counts of first degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

In an interview with CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault, the Islams  spoke about the difficult two-month trial and the long road since the attack in 2021, when community members and politicians came together to decry hate and Islamophobia. 

They hope that the hate they sometimes see growing around them today isn’t indicative of the future.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, because hate in society still continues to exist,” said Hina Islam.

Surviving family members have always wanted to keep the Afzaal’s son, who survived, out of the public eye, but say that prayers and expressions of support from across the country have been instrumental in his recovery.

“He has a very good network of care,” Ali Islam said. “He’s happy and healthy and doing what an 11-year-old should be doing.”  

Of all the families in London, the killer happened to find a group of people that embodied humility and decency, he added. “You could not beat them for niceness. The self-sacrifice, the way they take care of everyone around that. That is really a part of their legacy.” 

Watch the interview with Ali and Hina Islam on Nov. 22 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem. 

Featured VideoRelative Ali Islam talks about the Afzaal family, who were killed in a truck attack in London, Ont., and what each member meant to him. ‘The self-sacrifice, the way they took care of everyone around them, it really is part of their legacy.’

Sentencing still to come

At a sentencing date yet to be set, a judge will determine whether his crime — the planned and deliberate murders of a Muslim family, out for an evening walk that day and targetted because of the traditional Pakistani clothing the women were wearing — amounted to terrorism. 

“For me, the terrorism label will bring some measure of security to many minority communities,” said Ali Islam. “When I was growing up, I was taught that a terrorist was a brown man wearing a turban yelling in a strange language with a machine gun. This will make a difference to bring security.” 

It might, he hopes, make someone think twice next time they think about attacking a minority group, whether it’s a Muslim family, an LGBTQ parade or a cultural festival. 

Hina Islam, a therapist who works with youth and whose own two kids were close to Yumnah Afzaal, said she worries about young people’s perceptions of their place in Canada.

“My son came to me and asked me, ‘If a time comes where we have to leave Canada, because we’re not welcome here, where do we go?’ He was born here. This is home. For a 14-year-old to be thinking about that, that worries me.” 

She’s been instrumental in guiding a group of young people who formed the Youth Coalition Combatting Islamophobia after the 2021 attack, trying to give teens a voice.

“They have just as much a right to make change and fight for change. This is their home,” Hina Islam said. 

Three women wearing pastel colours and one man stand looking at the camera.
Yumnah Afzaal, 15, Madiha Salman, 44, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, left to right, were out for an evening walk on June 6, 2021when they were run over by a truck in what police said was an attack motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Submitted by the Afzaal family)

Worries about radicalization

The trial, which the couple watched sometimes in Windsor, where it was moved because of pre-trial publicity in London, and sometimes on Zoom, was difficult to take in. The killer testified, as did a psychiatrist whose bias toward the defence was pointed out by prosecutors and the judge. 

The verdict was a relief, the Islams said, especially given the vast swaths of evidence about the killer’s psyche that the jury didn’t hear — that he hated many minority groups, from Jews to Black people to feminists and gay people, and that he quoted liberally from white supremacist texts in his own manifesto. 

“Why were we there in the first place? There was such overwhelming evidence in this case,” Ali Islam said. “The whole process was, in many ways, unnecessary.” 

The killer told a psychiatrist multiple times he wanted to plead guilty, a fact the jury didn’t get to hear. “A guilty plea would have saved us from retraumatization,” Hina Islam said. 

There are worries, too, about the ease with which radicalization can happen. The killer said he hoped to inspire other angry young men, and it’s a thought that sticks with Ali Islam. 

“We live in a world with polarization and extremism and there are now conditions that accelerate that process,” he said. “You don’t need a firebrand cleric, you can radicalize yourself, at home when no one is aware it’s happening.”

WATCH | Perception of Canada not changed by truck attack, says Afzaal relative: 

relatives of family killed in london ont truck attack worry about more hate call for humanity 2

Truck attack hasn’t changed perception of Canada, Afzaal relative says

9 hours ago

Duration 1:01

Featured VideoAli Islam is an uncle of Madiha Saman, one of four people killed in an attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., in 2021. Islam says the killer wanted to drive people apart based on skin colour, but ‘that’s not what Canadians are — we’re a country of decency, of politeness, of respect.’

There’s a hope that now that the evidence is finished and the guilty verdicts rendered, Canadians can start moving forward, Ali Islam said. 

“Take the time to get to know your neighbour, people who are different than you,” he said. “Conversations are so important. A lot of this case stems form ignorance.” 

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