Ceremonies unfolded across Canada on Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of a deadly shooting at a Quebec City Mosque, including a memorial to be led by members of the facility where six men were killed.
The event organized by worshipers of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre was one of several scheduled to honour the sombre anniversary, as well as the first National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia, which was proclaimed last April.
“Today, we pay tribute to the victims of this hateful act of terror, who were senselessly killed at the hands of bigotry, Islamophobia, and racism. We express solidarity with the survivors and those injured, the families and friends who lost a loved one, and all the communities of Quebec City and across Canada whose lives have been changed forever,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
Trudeau was scheduled to speak on Saturday with representatives from the mosque where six worshippers were killed by a lone gunman shortly after the end of evening prayers on Jan. 29, 2017.
The Quebec City event will be largely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with speeches being made outside the mosque in Ste-Foy, a suburban borough of the provincial capital.
Quebec Premier François Legault and Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand are among those expected to attend the evening event, with the public asked to follow online.
The ceremony will mark the most high-profile of several tributes that have taken place in recent days and are set to wrap up on Monday.
In Ottawa, organizers of an interfaith, in-person vigil intended to commemorate the attack said they decided to move it online over fears that the event might be targeted by members of a convoy that is in the city to protest COVID-19 regulations.
Fareed Khan, who organized the event with his group Canadians United Against Hate, said while the protestors are describing themselves as being in favour of “freedom,” they’re depriving others of their liberties.
“They’re talking about the freedom to be able to be irresponsible individuals and not be vaccinated and possibly spread COVID-19 around Canada,” he said in an interview. “Meanwhile, our freedom has been deprived, our freedom to gather peacefully to remember victims of a brutal crime on a very sacred day. It is frustrating and it’s angering.”
Khan said that while his group did not receive any direct threats, the decision to move the vigil — which had been scheduled to take place in downtown Ottawa — was made after consulting with police and city officials.
He said he’d like to see real action from Canada’s political leaders to fight Islamophobia and other forms of hate.
“We can’t let voices of hate target minority communities, whether it’s Muslims, or Jews, or Blacks, or Indigenous people, Asians, LGBTQ, we’ve got to make sure we stand up to those voices,” Khan said. “We’ve got to actually at times go into the streets and be visible and say, “no, we will not stand for this in our country.’”
A commemorative ceremony also took place in London, Ont., where four members of a Muslim family were struck by a vehicle and killed as they took a walk on June 6, 2021. Police have said they believe the family members were targeted because of their faith, and the man accused in the case is now facing murder and terrorism charges.
“We pray for justice and equality, we pray that there are no more nationally-televised funerals, no more vigils, no more anniversaries of shootings, we pray for peace for all Canadians,” Aarij Anwer, of the London Muslim Mosque, said at the event.
A vigil also took place in Montreal on Saturday afternoon.
“Despite the cold and despite the health restrictions, it’s very important for people to come together to feel this feeling of community, of society, together,” Ehab Lotayef, one of the event organizers, said in an interview.
Lotayef said his organization, Muslim Awareness Week, has organized more than 20 events this week that are intended to fight Islamophobia and break down stereotypes.
“The tragedy that happened in 2017, and the similar tragedy that happened just last year in London, Ont., are but the tip of the iceberg. I don’t believe that those things would happen if the iceberg wasn’t really huge under the surface,” Lotayef said.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims has launched a campaign asking people to wear green squares to show their solidarity with the victims of the attack and to denounce Islamophobia.
As part of the campaign, the British Columbia Legislature, the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and Montreal’s Samuel de Champlain Bridge, along with a number of buildings across Canada, will be lit in green on Saturday night.
“Islamophobia has claimed more victims since that night,” Lina El Bakr, Quebec Advocacy Officer at the council, said in a release in reference to the mosque attack. “There is no doubt that we as a country have our work cut out for us. We have heard our elected leaders denounce the violence Canadian Muslims have endured, but action has been slow and piecemeal. It is time for us all to go beyond words and take action.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2022.
– With files from Sidhartha Banerjee
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press