At Quebec City mosque memorial, sadness and calls for continued vigilance against Islamophobia

·3 min read
At Quebec City mosque memorial, sadness and calls for continued vigilance against Islamophobia

At an event to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the deadly Quebec City mosque attack, community leaders spoke not only of their ongoing grief but also underlined the need for continued vigilance and action against Islamophobia and racism.

Abderrahim Loukili, the president of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, called it a day of "immense sadness." The day after the tragedy, he said, people in Quebec and Canada called for unity, solidarity and compassion, and for an end to racism and hatred.

"In coming to our mosque each day, we experience the memories daily of our lost, martyred brothers," he said, before naming each of the six men killed that day: Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane.

WATCH | Nora Loreto, a member of I Remember January 29, speaks about the anniversary

The federal government announced Thursday it would designate Jan. 29 a national day of remembrance for the 2017 attack, and a day of action against Islamophobia.

The declaration came almost exactly two years after the Quebec government said such a day was not needed.

It also comes in the context of ongoing tension between the provincial government and Quebec's Muslim communities, in particular around Quebec's secularism law, widely known in English as Bill 21.

In January 2019, in denying the need for a day of remembrance, Premier François Legault said he didn't think there was Islamophobia in Quebec. He revised that statement a few days later, saying that it exists but that there is no "undercurrent" of Islamophobia.

At a news conference Thursday, Legault said he agreed with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's remarks about marking the occasion, and that the 2017 attack needed to be remembered so it is never repeated.

But Legault said he would not be drawn into a debate about Islamophobia in the province, and declined to answer a direct question about whether it was a problem.

"There is racism in Quebec," he said. "We have to fight against all forms of racism in Quebec."

A source of concern

Legault's avoidance of a broader declaration has remained a source of deep concern for leaders in the Muslim community.

Aymen Derbali was gravely wounded in the attack — he was shot seven times, a bullet struck his spinal cord, and he will never walk again.

He told the CBC that Quebec is lagging in recognizing Islamophobia, "as shown by the fact that the premier himself doesn't acknowledge its existence."

Derbali said "it feels like we have gone backwards" under Legault's government.

In particular, he said, Quebec's secularism law largely targets Muslim women, and has created a problem where none existed.

"So instead of taking actions against Islamophobia, [the government] is fuelling Islamophobia," he said. "They've created a confrontation at the societal level of those who are for religious symbols and those who are not."

Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah said displays of solidarity this year and in previous years, by people in Quebec City and beyond, prove that society wants to see change.

"We're talking about the establishment, which does not want to recognize [the problem]," Benabdallah said. "We ask that they make an effort, for the good of society."

Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada
Alexandre Duval/Radio-Canada

In 2017, just hours after the attack, hundreds of citizens walked together to honour the six men who were killed, and a year later more than a thousand people gathered despite freezing temperatures.

I Remember January 29 and the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre will livestream tonight's commemoration event, starting at 6 p.m.

Other events, including one in Montreal Friday evening, are also planned to commemorate the attack