Five members of the same Muslim family, ranging in age from nine to 74 years old, were out walking on Sunday evening when a pickup truck leapt a kerb and ran them down in what police are calling a premeditated attack.
The incident took place in the city of London, Ontario, the Globe and Mail is reporting.
The victims were two women, a man, and a 15-year-old girl. A boy aged nine, the family’s only survivor, is in hospital with serious injuries. They have not been named, in accordance with the wishes of the family.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, of London, Ontario, was arrested late on Sunday in a shopping mall parking lot a short distance from the scene of the incident. He was charged on Monday with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
“It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” Detective Superintendent Paul Waight told a news conference on Monday.
Police are weighing possible terrorism charges, he said, adding that it is believed to be a hate crime.
“There is no known previous connection between the suspect and the victims,” Waight said, adding that the suspect was wearing a vest that appeared to be “like body armour”.
Officials added that the weather was fine and high visibility conditions when the black truck was seen mounting the kerb on Hyde Park Road on Sunday evening.
A 2016 census found that London – a city about 200km southwest of Toronto – is growing increasingly diverse. One in five people was born outside of Canada, with Arabs being the area’s largest minority group, and South Asians coming in a close second.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was among those who paid tribute to the victims, tweeting: “Hate and Islamophobia have NO place in Ontario.”
“This was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred,” said London Mayor Ed Holder.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said in a statement that the attacker should face terrorism charges.
“A man allegedly got in his car, saw a Muslim family walking down the street, and made the decision that they do not deserve to live,” said the organisation’s CEO Mustafa Farooq. “He did not know them. This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such.”
Nawaz Tahir, a representative of the London Muslim community said, “These were innocent human beings who were killed simply because they were Muslim.”
The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since six people were killed in a Quebec city mosque in 2017.
Last September, a caretaker at a Toronto mosque was killed in a knife attack that led police to charge a man with first-degree murder. Members of the city’s Muslim community immediately called for tougher hate crimes laws.