Montrealers attend vigil and march for victims of terrorist action in France
On Wednesday, Jan. 7, two armed attackers gained entrance into the building of satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and opened fire on the employees, killing 10 and wounding 11 others. Two police officers were also casualties of the shootout. The two brothers responsible for the attack, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, 32 and 34 years old, escaped from the police. An alleged 18-year-old accomplice turned himself in to the police the following evening, multiple sources reported.
Charlie Hebdo is a satirical magazine known most notably for its provocative caricatures, including those of the Prophet Muhammad. A Molotov cocktail attack burned down the publication’s office in 2011 and it was the target of numerous threats in relation to its cartoons. Well-respected cartoonist and editor in chief Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier, and fellow employees Jean Cabut, Philippe Honoré, Georges Wolinski, Bernard Verlhac and Elsa Cayat, were some of the 12 victims.
On Thursday, another attack took place in Montrouge, a community in the southern Parisian suburbs, resulting in another victim. The attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, was allegedly connected to the Kouachi brothers, and later proclaimed in a video his allegiance to ISIS. He escaped before he could be arrested while the authorities narrowed down the search for the Kouachi brothers in a suburb north of Paris.
On Friday, the Kouachi brothers barricaded themselves in a small printing company in Dammartin-en-Goële, 25 miles northeast of the French capital, while Coulibaly attacked and took hostages in a Kosher store, taking four more lives.
In a coordinated strike French police conducted two separate operations to get to both the Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly, leading to the death of all three attackers. Thus concluded the 53 dreadful hours that France’s population experienced.
Montreal is Charlie
Like many spots across the globe, Montreal organizers quickly showed their support and held vigils and marches of solidarity. Over 1,000 people gathered in front of Montreal’s French Consulate on McGill College Ave. on Wednesday night, while a much larger march occurred on Sunday morning.
Professional cartoonist Jean-Sébastien Bérubé was one of the many people present at Wednesday’s vigil.
“I feel directly concerned because of my work as a cartoonist,” he said when asked about his reaction. “I was shocked and deeply affected by those events because, for me, it’s a direct attack against freedom of speech.”
Bérubé also mentioned the effect that the shootings had on his profession. “In the cartoonist community, there is a lot of solidarity at the moment,” he said.
Laetitia Colonna, a graphic designer and webzine columnist also present at the vigil, laid out one basic notion that resonated in the inspiring roars emanating from the crowd present on Wednesday night: “I protest today because I want to show that we must not let ourselves be controlled by fear,” she said. “We must continue to express ourselves freely.” Colonna outlined the fact that this kind of gathering was also a way to ensure the future of those fundamentals rights. “I’m also here because I want my kids to be able to express themselves freely at all times,” she said. “We must not let ourselves be intimidated by such acts.”Part of the crowd that gathered in spite of a glacial weather was already familiar with Charlie Hebdo’s work, but some of them also showed up to the vigil without any prior knowledge of the magazine’s work; the people present on Wednesday night were united by grief, but also by the will to express their support of the victims, the notion of liberty and the freedom of speech.
Another vigil was organized on Wednesday by Montreal City Hall in which Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre participated. A great number of those spontaneously organized gatherings took place around the world in the first 24 hours of those tragic few days.
In the aftermath of the attacks, even more gatherings were organized, notably on Sunday when over a million people mobilized in Paris. Police estimated some 25,000 people marched silently in Montreal from Place des Arts to the French consulate on McGill Ave.
The movement adopted the phrase “Je suis Charlie” and symbolically brandished pens during vigils in support of the victims of the attack. Other signs read “Liberté, cher liberté, guide nos pas,” “Je suis même pas peur!” and “Je suis Ahmed Charlie,” referring to the French policeman Ahmed Merabet, who was killed point-blank execution-style and has come to symbolize the fact Muslims are neither apart from, nor unconcerned and unhurt by this brazen attack on humanist values.
“I’m here because this is unacceptable. Whether or not you agree or support this sort of satire, nobody should be killed for writing or singing or a performance,” said Arian Leduc, 29, who had taken a few hours off his Sunday morning routine to come out with his friends and show solidarity with the crowds.