Montrealers of all religions gather to honour victims of London attack

Montrealers of all religions gather to honour victims of London attack

“The virus of hate is worse than COVID,” the organizer said. “There’s no vaccine against it, and you can’t put a mask on to shield yourself.”

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Montrealers of all ages and religions gathered downtown Wednesday to denounce hate crimes and honour the four members of a Muslim family who were killed in Ontario this past weekend.

The vigil, put together by a collective of religious and civil society organizations, drew about 200 people on the steps of the Place des Arts esplanade in blazing late afternoon sunshine.

A minute of silence — also dedicated to femicide victims and the 215 Indigenous children whose bodies were found in British Columbia last month — was observed, despite the loud music emanating from nearby loudspeakers on Ste-Catherine St. “Non à la haine!” (“No to hate!”), participants shouted repeatedly between speeches.

Forty-six-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter and her 74-year-old grandmother were killed Sunday evening in London, Ont., after a truck mowed them down. They were targeted because of their religion, police said. The couple’s nine-year-old son survived.


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“This tragedy is simply unacceptable,” Montrealer France Trudel said just before the event began. “I’m here today because there was no way I was going to stay home and wait for things to change. In today’s society, it seems like the extremes are getting stronger. If we do nothing, nothing will change.”

Vanier College professor Tali Goodfriend, attending as a private citizen, said the “horrific” London attack resonated with so many people because it goes against what Canadian society stands for.

“For something like that to happen because of what you believe, it just seems unconscionable,” Goodfriend, who was raised in Israel, said in an interview. “It doesn’t make sense. It’s really important to stand up to say that we don’t want to tolerate this. We need to educate people and bring them together.”


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Event organizer Samira Laouni, who runs the non-profit group Communication pour l’ouverture et le rapprochement intercultural, put it more bluntly.

“The virus of hate is worse than COVID-19,” she told the Montreal Gazette. “There’s no vaccine against it, and you can’t put a mask on to shield yourself.”

Speakers at the event — including politicians and religious leaders — underlined the need to fight online hatred and legislate against Islamophobia. Many cited recent attacks against the Jewish and Asian communities, while reminding participants that the wounds opened by the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting have yet to heal.

“We must never allow these acts to become tolerable,” said Montreal city councillor Lionel Perez. “The indifference to such monstrous events is the ally of evil. These things are unfortunately becoming more and more predominant. We have to denounce it as a society, and we have to ensure that it doesn’t become the norm.”

To defuse the violence, some urged the participants to step outside their comfort zone.

“I call on everybody to get to know your neighbours,” said Julia Green of Montreal’s St. James United Church. “Go to interfaith events. Reach out to other communities. Get to know those people. They deserve protection. They deserve respect. They deserve love and passion, like all of us do.”


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