OTTAWA — The federal government intends to make Jan. 29 a day to honour victims of the deadly 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault made the announcement Thursday, the day before the fourth anniversary of the attack.
Six people were killed and 19 seriously injured when a gunman burst into the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City, an attack that stunned the country and was condemned as an act of terrorism.
The day will be officially called the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia.
Guilbeault said Canadians have an obligation to remember the victims and a responsibility to combat discrimination.
"This tragedy reminds us of the urgency to stand up against these hateful acts and online radicalization," he said.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, one of many groups which had been urging the government to designate the day, says it will stand as a reminder of the lives lost and the work ahead to dismantle hate and racism.
The shooter's racist rage was fuelled online, and the NCCM said that's why it has been advocating for regulations to deal with online hate while respecting civil liberties.
"But there's so much more that needs to be done in terms of action, including the dismantling of the 300 white supremacist groups that operate in Canada," Mustafa Farooq, the chief executive officer of the NCCM, said in an interview.
The shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, eventually pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder, and was sentenced originally to 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
In November, that time before parole was reduced to 25 years, a move the Quebec government intends to contest at the Supreme Court.
After the shooting a heated debate erupted in Canada over the concept of Islamophobia.
A Liberal private member's motion on the issue that had received little earlier attention was suddenly thrust into the spotlight and taken up by the Liberal government.
The motion, known as M-103, had several elements in it picked apart by critics, but most opposition centred on the inclusion of the word "Islamophobia" itself, and the language that it ought to be condemned along with all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,
Islamophobia is generally understood to mean an irrational fear or hatred of Muslims or Islam that in turn leads to discrimination or violence, but the motion's effort to condemn it were taken up by the political right as efforts to silence criticism of Islam more broadly.
That issue became a talking point in the Conservative party, which was in the middle of a leadership race at the time.
Many voiced opposition to the motion on the grounds of free speech.
While the motion ultimately passed, leading to House of Commons committee hearings on systemic racism that underpin some of the Liberal government's efforts on that file today, the vast majority of Conservatives voted against it.
Among them, current Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, who had also been running for the party leadership in 2017.
He said then his issue was that the motion was the result of political games being played by his opponents, and his efforts to reach out and try to depoliticize those efforts were rebuffed.
Quebec Premier François Legault refused to be drawn into a debate around it when asked for his reaction Thursday to the establishment of the day.
"I don’t want to get into the debate on Islamophobia. There are racist people in Quebec, there are people who are intolerant, it’s unacceptable," he said.
Legault said he intends to record a video to send a message to Quebec that what happened four years ago was unacceptable then, and now.
"I think it’s important that we remember what happened at the mosque of Quebec in order that it doesn’t happen any time," he told reporters.
"There is some racism in Quebec, we have to fight all forms of racism in Quebec. "
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press