A Toronto mosque where a volunteer was fatally stabbed this weekend was in the process of applying for federal funding intended to protect places of worship from hate crimes.
Mohammed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was slain at the International Muslim Organization (IMO) mosque on Rexdale Boulevard following the evening prayer on Saturday. He was sitting at the entrance of the building ensuring that COVID-19 measures were being followed when an intruder came in from outside and killed him.
Toronto Police are searching for the unidentified, hooded killer whose grainy image was captured on video. They are also probing the homicide as a potential hate crime. “We’re looking at everything – including that,” Inspector Hank Idsinga told reporters on Monday.
Detectives are also probing whether the homicide could be linked to another one that took place last week about four kilometres away. Rampreet Singh, in his 30s, had been living under a bridge by a nearby river trail when he was killed.
The mosque is located in the riding of Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “This is absolutely tragic and unacceptable," Mr. Ford said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. “My condolences go to Mohammed-Aslim Zafis’s family and the Muslim community for their loss.”
Administrators of the mosque in northwest Toronto describe the killing as an unprovoked attack against a volunteer who had been offering up his time to stop any potential spread of COVID-19.
“He would sit at the door to make sure everyone was following the protocols and the guidelines before entering the mosque,” said Omar Farouk, the IMO’s president, in an interview. “He was a good man with a very good heart.”
He described Mr. Zafis as a Guyanese-born Muslim with a wife and adult children. A funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
In recent years, mosques have been targeted in mass shootings by lone gunmen in Quebec City and in Christchurch, New Zealand. Synagogues have been targeted as well. A gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. Fallout from that shooting put Canadians synagogues on high alert.
The prospect for such violence was anticipated years ago by Public Safety Canada. In 2007, the federal department created a pool of funds to shield places of worship from potential hate crimes.
Under the Security Infrastructure Program, mosques and synagogues can apply for funding for alarm systems, fences, gates, lighting, security cameras and motion detectors.
The IMO mosque in Rexdale started putting together an application for such funds more than a year ago, according to Mr. Farouk.
“The application is in process,” he said. He couldn’t say definitively whether the paperwork had been filed but "the security measures would have covered the entirety of the IMO property.”
A representative of Public Safety Canada told The Globe and Mail that the department could not immediately comment on the status of the IMO’s application.
Observers say the federal government needs to simplify the red tape surrounding the security-infrastructure program. “It’s always a process,” said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “The infrastructure is sometimes difficult to navigate – but it works.”
He added that the program is especially vital today, given reports of increases in hate crimes during the pandemic.
“It’s doubly more needed,” said Mr. Farber. “We’re seeing an increase in hate that is relatively unprecedented. The three groups that are most targeted are Jews, Muslims and people of colour.”
The president of the mosque said the tragedy violated a space where Muslims in Rexdale go to find solace and safety.
“People love coming to the mosque because they are looking for peace,” said Mr. Farouk. “Despite the challenges the community is facing regarding COVID, the love and the willingness and the desire have always been there to seek peace in God.”
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