The ceremony honoured the victims, and called for peace
In a solemn ceremony, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) held their Annual Interfaith Commemoration of the Quebec mosque shooting attack through a virtual livestream on Jan. 29, to mark the fourth anniversary of the massacre.
“Insecurity, illness, isolation, intolerance, these are the four ‘i’’s that have plagued us during this past year, hopefully today … we can bring you a fifth ‘i,’ which is that of inspiration,” began the host, Walter Chi-yan Tom, manager of the Legal Information Clinic, who noted the different faith backgrounds of the keynote speakers.
The tragic event at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec mosque in Québec City took six lives and injured another 19 people, in an Islamophobic attack that rocked the country and made international headlines in 2017. Since then, community members have organized more initiatives to fight against ignorance and discrimination with understanding and education campaigns.
While mourning the loss and continued pain from community members still suffering from the attack, keynote members highlighted their collaborative and peacemaking efforts. Prevalent among all the members’ speeches was a call to action: for each of us to work towards fostering a better community to fight hatred in all its forms.
Before the speeches, Victoria Pesce, CSU external affairs & mobilization coordinator, presented a land acknowledgement, followed by a welcoming message and healing poem by Vicky Boldo, Cree/Métis cultural support worker at Concordia’s the Otsenhákta Student Centre (formally known at the Aboriginal Student Resources Centre).
On Jan. 28, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault announced the federal government’s decision to make Jan. 29 The National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec Mosque Attack and a day of action against Islamophobia.
“This is extremely important… we have been asking for that for the last four years,” said Ehab Lotayef, co-founder of Muslim Awareness Week (MAW), in response to the announcement.
Different events aim at featuring muslims as exactly who they are — a neighbour, a helper, or friend in the community — Lotayef argued that how “we could make this a better world” is to give everybody a chance to get to know each other.
“Know them as people who contribute to your life, who have their inspirations, have their concerns, and would love to know about you, and would love you to know about them,” said Lotayef.
With poems, songs, and symbolic acts, other members spoke of their joint effort and support with the Muslim community, for healing and peace, and the fight against discrimination.
Rabbi Ellen Greenspan, from the Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, said she held hands with many people from the Jewish community around mosques on Fridays after the attack, to protect Muslim worshippers inside.
During her speech, Cree/Métis cultural support worker Boldo said those different community members who attend these vigils and mass gatherings “stand there in solidarity with us are our brothers and sisters.”
Gospel singer Amanda Benn sang an acapella of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Afterwards she wrote in the chat she was “fighting back tears” and thanked the speakers for their “presence and energy.”
In speaking on the challenges of today, Fo Niemi, executive director at the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), pointed to the ongoing court battle of the Quebec mosque shooting murderer, Alexandre Bissonnette, who successfully challenged his parole sentence from 40 years to 25 years in the Quebec court of Appeal in 2020, on the basis that his former sentence “cruel and unusual” punishment.
This decision has been appealed to the Supreme Court, who will hear the case next year. Niemi said on this appeal before the Supreme Court, “We have to ensure that the rights of the victims of crime should come first.”
For the candle lighting ceremony, Rev. Ellie Hummel, chaplain & coordinator at Concordia’s Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre, lit the first candle to honour those who still suffer today from the attack, and the six murdered victims: Ibrahima Barry (39), Mamadou Tanou Barry (42), Khaled Belkacemi (60), Aboubaker Thabti (44), Abdelkrim Hassane (41) and Azzeddine Soufiane (57).
Hummel lit a second candle “for all victims of violence based on religion, racialization or identity,” followed by a third and last candle “of hope and commitment.”
“As we grieve, as we lament, let us also remember our vision of a world of understanding, respect, community and justice… let us walk on the paths that bring healing and hope.”
Feature image is a screenshot of the virtual event