'This was a terrorist attack': Trudeau condemns London hit-and-run that left four Muslim family members dead

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today condemned a “brutal, cowardly and brazen” attack on a London, Ont. Muslim family, saying the hit-and-run that left four people dead was a terrorist assault motivated by religious hatred.

“This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack,” Trudeau said in a speech in the House of Commons.

Trudeau said Sunday’s attack was not a one-off, citing numerous eruptions of anti-Muslim violence in recent years that have claimed lives.

The Quebec City mosque massacre, the September murder of a man at a Rexdale, Ont. mosque and multiple less violent — but still alarming — episodes like the recent harassment of Black Muslim women in Edmonton reveal a troubling streak of Islamophobia in Canada, Trudeau said.

WATCH: Prime Minister Trudeau calls London hit-and-run a “terrorist attack”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the deaths of four people in London on Sunday in the House of Commons. 2:44

“They were all targeted because of their Muslim faith. This is happening here, in Canada, and it has to stop,” he said.

Just as Canadians mobilized to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudeau said, the country must come together to fight an “ugly, pervasive trend” of anti-Muslim violence that threatens the security of some communities.

Trudeau said such attacks are fuelled by “toxic rhetoric … discrimination” and online “extremism” that has been allowed to fester.

He vowed to redouble the government’s efforts to dismantle “far-right hate groups” that encourage such violent activity. Pointing to the government’s recent move to list the Proud Boys as a terrorist entity, Trudeau said his government will do more to root out groups that continue to threaten public safety.

The government will fund the Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program, a federal initiative that flows funds to communities that face hate-motivated crimes, Trudeau said.

The program gives money to community centres, schools and places of worship to take steps to better protect themselves from hate crimes.

The federal government also has committed some $45 million to Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, a program meant to counter racism and discrimination through a public awareness campaign, online civic literacy programming and funds to support marginalized communities.

Despite those efforts, hate crimes have been on the rise during Trudeau’s tenure. According to data from Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes is up 30 per cent since 2014. Many of the 2,000 hate crimes documented each year are related to religious persecution.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada must confront the pervasive racism that led to a Muslim family being “mauled in the streets” of London.

London police have said they believe the driver, a 20-year-old man, intentionally targeted the victims “because of their Islamic faith.”

“There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act motivated by hate,” said Det.-Supt. Paul Waight, a criminal investigator with the London Police Service. The police have so far declined to explain how they came to this conclusion.

While some might be shocked to learn that an attack like this can happen in a country like Canada, Singh said it’s no surprise to people who have experienced decades of discrimination and indifference to prejudice.

WATCH: ‘Today is a hard day’: Singh speaks about attack on Muslim family in London

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talks about the aftermath of a deadly attack on a Muslim family in London. 3:55

Drawing a link between the Sunday attack and the preliminary report of Indigenous children found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., Singh said Canadians “can’t deny” that their country is riddled with racism.

“The reality is this is our Canada,” Singh said. “How many more families will be killed before we do something? Another family can’t be mauled down in the streets and nothing happens. Muslims are not safe in this country.”

Nafisa Azima and her daughter Seena Safdari attend a memorial at the location where a family of five was hit by a driver, in London, Ont., Monday, June 7, 2021. Four of the members of the family died and one is in critical condition. A 20 year old male has been charged with four counts of first degree murder and count of attempted murder in connection with the crime. (Brett Gundlock/The Canadian Press)

He said some Canadian politicians have fuelled anti-Muslim hate. Turning to look at the Conservative opposition benches, Singh said the rhetoric employed by some politicians has “inflamed people” in ways that lead to attacks like the one in London.

“This is a harsh reality. Politicians have used Islamophobia for political gain. They have. They’ve abused it as a divisive tool — that has to end,” he said.

“We all know when it’s been done, we all know how it’s happened.”

In the 2015 federal election campaign, the Conservative Party proposed barring Muslim women from wearing the niqab while taking the citizienship oath and announced plans for a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline so Canadians could report some crimes.

The vast majority of Conservative MPs also opposed M-103, a 2017 motion introduced by Ontario Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, which called on the Commons to denounce Islamophobia in the aftermath of the Quebec massacre that killed six.

The motion also demanded the federal government develop a “a whole-of-government approach” to reduce discrimination faced by religious minorities.

All but two of the Tory MPs voted against the motion, citing a fear that it would unfairly limit freedom of speech and expression or shield Islam from criticism. Some Conservatives opposed to the motion said it would single out Islam for special treatment in Canadian law.

Other, more fringe elements suggested the motion would lead to the introduction of Shariah law in Canada.

Speaking later at a press conference today, Trudeau said politicians must “push back against fear and anxiety that directs itself at minorities.” He said that some MPs are more intent on dividing Canadians than uniting them.

But Trudeau has done little to address concerns about Quebec’s Bill 21, legislation that bans public servants from wearing religious symbols such as crosses, hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes while on the job.

Critics maintain that the legislation unfairly targets minorities by making them choose between a job and their identity. The prime minister said he doesn’t think the bill is discriminatory. Asked if he thought the bill fosters hatred and discrimination, Trudeau said “no.”

“I think it is extremely important to recognize that provinces have the right to put forward bills that align with their priorities,” he said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said his thoughts were with the nine-year-old boy who survived the hit-and-run that left other members of his family dead.

“We have to strive to learn and be better. The Canada of his future needs to be better than the Canada of Sunday evening,” O’Toole said.

WATCH: O’Toole reacts to attack on a Muslim family in London

Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole shares his thoughts on the deaths of members of a Muslim family in London on Sunday. 2:34

O’Toole said the pandemic has led to a “dramatic increase in hate crime and other signs of intolerance” and the country must address this intolerance.

“It’s important we measure the distance between the Canada we have and the Canada we want. But it’s more important to not just recognize the distance between those Canadas but to conquer the distance,” he said. 

All of the major party leaders will travel to London today on government planes for a vigil service at the mosque the victims attended regularly.