After Attack on Mosque, Canadian Muslims Push for Systemic Change

February 16, 2017
Muslim woman and child hold a candle at a vigil after the Quebec shooting

Amidst public memorials and religious services following the January 29th terrorist attack on a Quebec mosque, Canadian Muslims are pushing for more lasting structural change.

It has been several weeks since a gunman shot and killed 6 mosque attendants during Sunday evening prayers at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center—and injured at least 8 others. While some have described the perpetrator—27-year-old university student Alexandre Bissonnette—as a “lone wolf” attacker, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau was quick to describe the massacre as a terrorist attack, linking Bissonnette’s actions to broader anti-Islamic sentiments in the country.

Canadians held memorials and vigils across the country in the aftermath of the attack, offering their sympathies to the Islamic Cultural Center. Speaking at one such vigil, Trudeau said,

“Last night this community experienced something that no community should ever have to know: Unspeakable cruelty and violence perpetuated on those who came together in friendship and faith.”

Speaking specifically to Canada’s Muslim population, Trudeau continued, “We stand with you. We love you and we support you and we will always defend and protect your right to gather together and pray today and every day.”

Samira Laouni, a Canadian multicultural organizer, told Montreal Gazette that the solidarity shown by Quebecers “really surprised us and it helped put a balm on an enormous wound.”

“The silent majority has stood up and said no to hatred, no to division,” she said.

Many of Canada’s Muslim population, however, have expressed the importance of turning mourning into action. After the shooting, a coalition of Muslim leaders across Canada petitioned the government to officially recognize the date of the attack, January 29, as “a national day of remembrance and action against Islamophobia,” CBC Radio-Canada reported. Executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims Ihsaan Gardee read an open letter thanking Canadians for their support in the aftermath of the attack and asking them to remain committed to eradicating prejudice across the country.

“The question for all of us must be—now what?” Gardee said.

The coalition’s open letter outlined goals for combating racial and religious prejudice at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels, including “bias-neutral” training for local police officers the incorporation of mandatory courses on systemic racism in Canadian secondary schools.

President of non-profit organization Québec Inclusif Émilie Nicolas echoed Gardee’s sentiments, saying that racism in Quebec “has been a problem for a very long time,” Montreal Gazette reported.

“When we bring up these problems we are told we are exaggerating,” Nicolas continued. “This national conversation could make a huge difference in the lives of the 10 per cent of Quebecers who are racialized as well as those from cultural communities…. It is really not a marginal problem.”

After a number of American celebrities and politicians offered their public support to Canada’s Muslims in the aftermath of the attack via social media, the White House was barraged with inquiries regarding the US President’s response. When asked about Donald Trump’s silence following the attack, senior presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway said the president was “sympathetic about loss of life” but “doesn’t tweet about everything.”

--by Caroline Matas

Image Source: Candlelight vigil. Photo by Premier of Alberta, Flickr Creative Commons.