Editorial: Islamophobia and Sexual Assault, Our Institutions are Failing Us

Graphic Carl Bindman

One year. One year already.

It’s been one year since six men were murdered during prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Their names were Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzedine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti. Nineteen others were wounded in the attack.

One year since six families had a member stolen from them. One year since the panicked reactions and phone calls. One year since the event that shook Quebec to its core, and exposed the rotten underbelly of a society growing increasingly closed and xenophobic.

One year ago, one of the worst tragedies to take place in Quebec in our lifetimes occurred.

The immediate aftermath of the attack saw a massive outpouring of solidarity. The day after it happened, a sea of people flooded to a vigil in Parc-Extension—mourning the dead, and vowing to fight like hell for the living. In that moment, it seemed like we really would never allow something like that to happen again. We were sad, we were shocked, we were angry.

But then, we forgot.

We told ourselves that the shooter acted alone, that he was a single, deranged person. We blamed Trump, we blamed Le Pen. We refused to look inward.

The past year has been a year of collective amnesia, a year of refusal to come to terms with the fact that the man who walked into a mosque with a gun and opened fire was a product of the society we all live in. And that refusal has come at a great cost.

Days after the shooting, multiple mosques in Montreal were vandalized. Just over a month later, Concordia received bomb threats targeting Muslim students, which used aggressive and hateful language. Organized racists marched on the streets of Montreal in the spring. A major news network fabricated a story about a mosque in Côte-des-Neiges which demonized Muslims. The province’s commission into systemic racism was cancelled. A law was passed that prevents Muslim women who wear face coverings from accessing public services. No major political party is in favour of designating the anniversary of the attack as a day against Islamophobia.

We stared into the eyes of the monster, and we saw what it was capable of. But instead of fighting, we turned our backs. It’s been a hell of a year.

We have a sizeable Muslim population at Concordia, and that means we’re subject to these same forces as elsewhere in this province. Our Muslim friends and colleagues were the targets of a bomb threat. In the past, news networks have invaded the space of the Muslim Student Association in an attempt to find “radical” books.

When the bomb threat happened, Concordia prioritized the safety of its employees over the safety of its students. During the week of the bomb threat, a Concordia Council on Student Life meeting scheduled to take place downtown was moved to Loyola because several of its participants felt unsafe. Classes, however, were not cancelled.

And now, as we enter a fourth week of living in the madness of the Creative Writing Department’s hurricane of sexual misconduct allegations, Concordia students are again asked to deal with the heavy burden of controversy, of feeling unsafe in our own classrooms and our communities.

And just like last year, it seems that Concordia’s administration is trying to move past this as fast as they can, refusing to address these accusations with the integrity and respect that Concordia students deserve.

Last week the administration pushed to form a new Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence, but instead of allowing the Concordia Student Union to choose students to be part of this task force, the administration is encouraging students to apply for it, and they will choose their own team.

This is illegal.

Only a student association has the power to appoint students to “sit or participate as student representatives on various councils, committees or other bodies in the institution.” This law is outlined in the Act Respecting the Accreditation and Financing of Student Associations.

So where do we go from here? How can we trust an institution that seems to favour its administration’s safety over its students’ safety?

When we find ourselves in the whirlwind of Concordia’s internal catastrophes, we must remember that we have the power to hold the administration accountable.

The political class has failed to address the root causes of the shooting. Concordia’s administration has failed to address this continuously developing sexual assault scandal.

If this year has taught us anything, let it be that we can’t depend on these institutions to save us. We need to be there for survivors, we need to be there for our Muslim brothers and sisters.

We need to create a climate in our communities where these tragedies can never happen again.