The following is a speech and a poem originally delivered on June 8 by Madiha Syed at an online community vigil for the Afzaal family who lost their lives in the London, Ontario attack.
You may hear many Canadian officials say that what happened on Sunday was not Canada. They may say that as a Canadian institution, hate has no place here. Islamophobia has no place here. Racism has no place here.
I would like to remind you today that hate, Islamophobia, and racism do have a place here because there are systemic holes and gaps in our laws and Constitution that allow and protect them.
There are 73 organizations that are classified as terrorist groups by Canada.
Sixty-five groups belong to people of colour and there are six white supremacist or neo-Nazi groups — three of which were added in February of 2021, just four months ago.
Fifty-six groups out of 73 are “Islamic.”
Let’s be clear: among those 73, the KKK is not considered terrorist. There is an abundance of white supremacy groups in Canada — groups that target and harass people of colour in major cities. They perpetrate violence against Indigenous women and girls.
Canada itself is guilty of the 215 children’s remains found last week. The last residential school only closed in 1996.
The very people who were meant to protect us target the BIPOC community through police brutality and have laws that target Muslims as terrorists.
How can I go for a walk with my family, thinking I’ll be safe just because I am in Canada?
In light of recent world issues, many of us are angry. Yet, we are grateful to live in Canada. Right? We aren’t in Palestine where they face genocide. We aren’t in China in camps or even in France with a bigoted government. We are in Canada, a place of diversity where all are welcomed. We live in a free Canada — where a family was murdered while walking.
Canada is not innocent in this issue and it must stop pretending it is a victim along with the rest of us. Canada is very good at saying the right words to pacify the people. But is it making the changes as it has promised? When will my hijab be the symbol of peace it is meant to be rather than a target for hateful people?
We cannot accept Canada’s sympathy when those who govern it have not fixed the broken systems, when it’s for that very reason the monster on Sunday was able to commit a heinous crime.
This is Canada.
I, like many of you, have thought about many what-ifs. What if that family was my family? What if it was Madiha Syed in the news instead of Madiha Salman? What if I was left alone and my parents died?
There is a little boy in the hospital right now.
If I was in his place, I would say
Ammi I am okay.
Ammi, hug Abbu and kiss Aapi for me.
Ammi, thank you for teaching me love.
If I was in his place, he would be going home to play
Going home to his family and they would be here, to stay.
If I was in his place. I would know that time would continue ticking away.
People would eventually move on to the next dismay
And I would be left alone to empty chairs and dusty beds
I know I would have my community and be well fed
But I wouldn’t be able to hold my grandma’s hands again. Or smell my dad’s cologne
If I was in his place. I would tell him to hug his mother. Listen to your father’s story
Cook with your grandma and run with your sister as if it was your last day.
‘Cause knowing Canada
This incident on Sunday, June 6 2021
where Salman Afzaal,
Mother of Salman Afzaal and
Yumna Afzaal, a child, would not be Canada’s last mistake.
Madiha Syed (she/her) is a spoken word artist. She is a youth activist who is passionate about promoting inclusive conversations and creating safe spaces. She uses her experience as a young Muslim woman of colour to help bridge the gaps in her community through the art of word.
Image credit: Madiha Syed, used with permission.