About 60 people gathered at the corner of 49 Ave. and 50 St. Friday for a vigil to honour the victims of a terrorist attack in London, Ont. earlier this week.
A Muslim family, 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed by a truck in a senseless attack while out for an evening walk last Sunday.
The Red Deer event Friday, organized by the Red Deer Islamic Centre was both to honour the lives of the family members who died and help bring the local community together and face the problem of Islamophobia.
“There are two reasons why we’re holding the event. The first is to show solidarity with the four people, the Afzaal family, who were murdered,” said Muhammad Patel, Imam at Red Deer Islamic Center.
“The second thing is to raise awareness that we can’t just turn a blind eye and assume that there’s no such thing as hatred or Islamophobia. It exists and minorities have been stigmatized – they have been treated differently… for the most part, there is a track record that exists and we need to acknowledge that.
“We can only move on after we acknowledge that yes, there have been wrongs committed… we need to see action and that action will only be seen once we raise awareness.”
In the days since the attack, the Alberta Government has taken several steps to tackle racism and hate crimes in the province.
On Thursday evening, the province announced it would target hate-motivated crimes and racism with new law enforcement resources, including a new community liaison connecting directly with ethnic and religious groups and sexual minority communities most targeted by hate-motivated crimes.
Alberta will also set up a provincial Hate Crimes Coordination Unit. This unit will work with law enforcement to improve and harmonize hate crime mitigation efforts across the province and facilitate training opportunities, intelligence gathering and investigative supports.
“Hate-motivated crimes and racism are unacceptable – full stop. We’re taking action to help support and empower the communities and groups most affected by this deplorable behaviour,” said Kaycee Madu, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General in a news release.
“In light of the recent attacks on Canadians simply because of their chosen faith, I hope the new community liaison and Hate Crimes Coordination Unit show Albertans our province is fully committed to protecting those being targeted.”
The province also introduced grants for security upgrades and technology improvements for religious and ethnic organizations and Indigenous groups that are at risk of being targeted by hate-inspired violence or vandalism.
“As we tragically witnessed this week, religious and ethnic minorities in Canada remain at risk of being targeted with hate-motivated crime,” premier Jason Kenney said Friday.
“These cowardly acts of bigotry have no place in our province. Alberta’s government stands shoulder to shoulder with these communities and is proud to deliver on our election commitment to help keep them safe.”
The initial call for grant applications will take place this fall. A total of $500,000 will be available, with applicants eligible for up to $10,000 to assist with training and security assessments, as well as up to $90,000 for security infrastructure.
On Friday, the government also outlined 48 recommendations from the Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council. Themes of the recommendations revolved around accountability structures required for anti-racism actions, justice system reforms, broad inclusivity towards racial equality and advancing human dignity in education.
“These recommendations are the culmination of thorough research, community engagement and thoughtful consideration of how the Government of Alberta can better serve racialized communities,” said China Sochi Ogbonna, co-chair, Alberta Anti-Racism Advisory Council in a release.
Patel said all of that signifies progress and is meaningful action.
“That’s a really positive step,” he said.