A pickup truck attack that killed four members of an immigrant family has shaken Canada, a country where immigrants are largely accepted, and drew denunciations Tuesday from Canada's prime minister, who called it a hate crime directed at Muslims.
The victims — two parents, two children and a grandmother — were on an evening walk when the driver of the truck struck slotxothem at an intersection in London, Ontario. The sole survivor was a 9-year-old boy, who was hospitalized.
“This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Parliament. “If anyone thinks racism and hatred don't exist in this country, I want to say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say “Islamophobia isn't real”?
The victims' extended family issued a statement identifying the dead as Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15; and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name was withheld. The hospitalized boy was identified as the couple's son, Fayez. Friends said the family immigrated to Canada 14 years ago.
Many Canadians have been enjoying evening walks to get fresh air after long days at home during the pandemic, Trudeau said.
“But unlike every other night, this family never made it home,” Trudeau said. “Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly and brazen act of violence. This killing was no accident. ... Canadians are outraged by what happened on Sunday. And many Muslim Canadians are scared.”
Trudeau said words matter and in part blamed rhetoric, disinformation and extremism online and in politics.
“They can be a seed that grows into an ugly, pervasive trend. And sometimes, they lead to real violence,” the prime minister said.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter that the attack revealed the growing Islamophobia in Western countries.
A 20-year-old suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, was arrested in the parking lot of a nearby mall. He was facing four counts of first-degree murder. Police were inside the suspect's London apartment on Tuesday.
Police said Veltman did not know the victims. Detective Supt. Paul Waight said it was not clear if he belonged to any specific hate group, but that local police were working with federal authorities to investigate potential terrorism charges. He said the attack was planned.
Veltman worked part time at an egg farm in nearby Strathroy, Ontario. The chief executive of Gray Ridge Eggs Inc., William Gray, gave no details about Veltman's job. He said the company was “shocked and saddened” by the attack, and he expressed sympathy for the victims' relatives and the Muslim community.
Arman Moradpourian, who worked with Veltman, said he never imagined he could do something like this.
“Not Nate,” Moradpourian told Global Television. “He was a quiet, friendly home schooled Christian kid.”
Everyone who knew the Afzal family knew “the model family they were as Muslims, Canadians and Pakistanis,” the statement from the extended family said. “They worked extremely hard in their fields and excelled. Their children were top students in their school and connected strongly with their spiritual identity.”