Dozens of Manitobans gathered virtually Friday evening to honour the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting, a tragedy fuelled by Islamophobia that occurred four years ago to the day.
Around 8 p.m. Jan. 29, 2017, a gunman opened fire on people practising evening prayer at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. Mamadou Tanou Barry, Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti and Khaled Belkacemi were killed, and five others were critically injured.
“This is a way for us to come together to remember, to honour and to reflect,” said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA) in Winnipeg, one of the groups that organized Friday’s vigil.
Four years ago, when Siddiqui first heard news of the mosque shooting in Quebec City, she was shocked — but not overly surprised, she said.
Since the Twin Towers fell in New York on Sep. 11, 2001, Siddiqui experienced many instances of Islamophobia, she said. Before the shooting in Quebec City, she felt something was going to happen, but didn’t expect the incident would be in Canada.
The fact the shooting happened at a mosque was also a deliberate message to all Muslims, she said.
Since then, the Muslim community has come together each year on this day. More than 60 community members and leaders, and politicians at all levels in Manitoba, from various backgrounds and faiths, attended and spoke at this year’s vigil.
‘Stronger when we collaborate’
The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg and Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg) helped organize the event.
The fact so many different people came together shows a community uniting against hatred, says Siddiqui.
“We are stronger when we collaborate, we cooperate, we stand with each other,” she said. “It’s not only that it gives support. It also gives a message to the hate mongers, to the right-wing supremacist groups, that you cannot get away with this. We are all together and we reject the othering of people.”
“That’s very important for us, as Canadians, to come together and not let a community suffer in silence, or by themselves — and to recognize that today it’s me, tomorrow it could be someone else.”
Recognition of Islamophobia in Canada
Harold Shuster, of Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg), spoke during Friday’s ceremony. Marginalized people of different faiths and races cannot only be concerned about discrimination against themselves, he said.
“Racial violence and discrimination, no matter who the victim or who the perpetrator, must be confronted with equal force and determination. We cannot allow ourselves to be divided or silenced in our struggle for equality,” Shuster said.
“We recognize that for us to feel safe and secure to live our lives, for our children to not know fear and hatred, our fight to end anti-Jewish racism must be part of an overall fight to end all forms of racism and discrimination.”
The federal government announced Thursday that Jan. 29 will forever be a national day of remembrance for the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting, and a day of action to combat Islamophobia.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also says the party is drafting legislation that will target white supremacists and hate groups — though he did not say what it would include, nor when it would come.
ISSA, among many Muslim community organizations across the country, had called for the day of remembrance since the tragedy occurred. The announcement validated the community, said Siddiqui, with federal recognition that Islamophobia exists in Canada.
Even still, Siddiqui worries that increased polarization caused by social media, and the rise of hate groups such as the Proud Boys and The Base, could lead to another event like what happened in Quebec City.
“You always prepare yourself for the worst. Hope for the best,” she said.
“I am not fully at ease to think that this will not happen again, unless, of course, we truly – each and every Canadian –stand up against hate. That we don’t turn the other way, that bystanders intervene, that Islamophobia doesn’t become a political ping pong ball.”