Seeing Quebec City mosque shooter freed is 'greatest fear' of victims' families, community leader says

·4 min read
Seeing Quebec City mosque shooter freed is 'greatest fear' of victims' families, community leader says

The Supreme Court of Canada's decision that the Quebec City mosque shooter will be eligible for parole after 25 years — not the 40 years imposed by a judge or the 50 years the Crown had sought — has left victims and members of Quebec's Muslim community feeling crestfallen.

"I greeted this decision with disappointment," said Aymen Derbali, one of the survivors of the 2017 attack. He said other victims feel the same way.

Derbali was shot seven times and left paralyzed for life.

The father of three said he wasn't surprised by the ruling and had been mentally preparing himself for such an outcome.

"I accept it, even though I feel bitterness and disappointment."

He said seeing his friends and praying with them at the mosque on Friday helped him make peace with the decision. "It helped me to appease this disappointment, the act of praying," he said.

Now that the highest court in the land has given its final word on the sentence, Derbali said he is ready to move on and focus on his loved ones.

"What interests me now is the future, focusing on my children's future," he said. "I am with my family, I look forward to seeing my children succeed in their studies. This is what is most important for me."

Families fear running into shooter

Sandra Hercegova/CBC
Sandra Hercegova/CBC

Leaders of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre also expressed their disappointment during a news conference at the mosque on Friday.

"This decision fails to take into consideration the atrocity and the scourge of the multiple murders [committed] in North America, as well as the hateful, Islamophobic and racist nature of this crime," said the centre's president, Mohamed Labidi.

Labidi said the ruling is very upsetting for the families of the victims.

"Their fear is to see their children grow up — after 25 years, they'll be grown men and women — and they'll cross their fathers' killer on the streets of Quebec. That's the victims' families' greatest fear," he said.

CBC
CBC

The co-founder of the centre, Boufeldja Benabdallah, echoed the disappointment.

"For us [the decision] didn't take into consideration the humanity of the families. It took into consideration the humanity of a killer who needs to be rehabilitated later."

Benabdallah said the balance that justice provides feels broken with today's decision.

"We take into consideration the rehabilitation of an individual that we must not hurt, that we must treat humanely and not punish unduly in a cruel and unusual manner," he said.

"But at the same time, the families affected by this must also feel that they were represented and that this killer needs to be punished appropriately for what he did."

'Painful' ruling for Canadian Muslims

"This decision is a painful one for many to read in our community," said Lina El Bakir, the Quebec advocacy officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

As an intervener in the case, the council was very interested in the outcome of the case, she said.

Submitted by Lina El Bakir
Submitted by Lina El Bakir

El Bakir, who knows some of the victims' families, said their pain never went away and that the Supreme Court ruling reopened their wounds.

"It's hard to have closure in these circumstances because in 20 years from now, there will be a parole [board hearing]."

El Bakir said the council will attend that hearing, to make sure the parole board understands what impact the shooter getting released would have on the victims and their families.

She said now more than ever, it is time to stand against Islamophobia and hate so that Canadian Muslims "never ever have to face something like that again."

Impact across the country

Labidi pointed out this decision will have ripple effects on the entire country, not just on Quebec City's Muslim community.

He said stronger measures are needed to prevent mass shootings in Canada.

He referred to the Texas school shooting on Tuesday, pointing out that this type of mass killing should to be treated differently than a single murder.

"We need to do something about mass killers, we shouldn't consider them like killers who only have killed once in their lives and who have the possibility of rehabilitation," he said.

"After 25 years [the killer] will leave, maybe he'll do another killing."

WATCH | Quebec City mosque leaders react to Supreme Court ruling:

Despite their disappointment, both Labidi and Benabdallah expressed the desire for the community to move on.

"It does allow us to close this legal chapter," said Labidi. "We now wish to focus on the future."

Benabdallah said the community will keep helping one another get through this event.

"We're turning the page today, because we won't spend 25 years rehashing this," he said.

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