We pride ourselves on being a nation of law, of equality, of justice. We have a Charter which guarantees these rights. We have courts which uphold and a culture that promotes them. Or do we? It occurs to me that in our great zeal to create equality we have perhaps begun to trample on the very things that protect it. We have become so hypervigilant for the specter of racism and bigotry that we may easily forget that not everything is racist, not every crime is bigotry.
The recent horror in London ON, involving the Afzaal family, is indeed a tragedy. It is a profound loss of life and the destruction of the family unit of a young boy. The local community will be reeling from it for years to come. Certainly, we as a society may feel a sense of civic obligation to support this community in a manner that is best suited. The man responsible is in custody and facing trial. We must depend on our laws and courts to do their work, uncover the truth and serve justice. Whatever that may look like.
Here is the problem. We cannot positively know the intentions of the man who drove the fatal vehicle. The Police investigating may suspect his motives, but we do have a system of justice that presumes innocence until proven guilty. We cannot let go of that standard or we will fall into chaos. Yet, at the memorial for this family, we had politician after politician from all levels of government call this a hate crime and announce that islamophobia has no place in Canada.
All of this while Nathaniel Veltman (the accused) has no known links to any hate groups, has left no trace of anti-Muslim ideology, or even a trace of premeditation that is known. In a nation that has presumption of innocence and the right to due process, elected officials have already declared the guilt of this man and his motives to be heinous.
Have we become so overly zealous in our quest to end racism that we have begun to trample our most basic legal principles in order to be seen as virtuous? Surely it is still possible to support the victims of this horrific tragedy while at the same time engaging in a real search for the truth about what happened. Perhaps Veltman did commit a criminal action, perhaps it was motivated by bigotry. OR, perhaps there was another motive. Perhaps he lost control of the vehicle. Perhaps he is simply a deeply disturbed individual. We will not know the answers until the trial is allowed to run its course. To presume the motive of the defendant simply because of the faith of the victims is just as bigoted as we accuse Veltman of being. Politicians making these proclamations do a great disservice and create a culture which undermines the very principle that protects each of us. That we are a nation of laws, and recognize everyone as equal before and under the law. To do this, is to plant the seeds of racism and bigotry.
Fr. Conrad Fernandes