Vigils for the Mosque Shooting Anniversary Fell Flat

Where Did the Compassion Go?

Montrealers gathered to mourn the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting and show solidarity with Canadian Muslims at a vigil on Jan. 30 2017. File Photo Sarah Jesmer

On Jan. 29 2017, fear, anger and confusion swept over Quebec and Canada.

I remember when I first heard about what had happened, when I heard that Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti, who had been praying at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, were killed by a young white man.

Everyone I knew was terrified.

The following night, a sea of thousands of Montrealers gathered by the Parc Metro station, holding candles and hundreds of signs, some saying “Make Racists Afraid Again.”

It was freezing, but we huddled together and listened to speakers from all different backgrounds and organizations denounce the hate that had fueled the shooter’s actions. As the night went on, more and more people came to listen and join the mass of love and support.

Being surrounded by love, by people who also felt broken and alone, somehow helped make sense of what had happened. We were broken and alone together.

A year has gone by since that night. Alexandre Bissonnette has become a household name in Quebec. Six families and a community are missing their fathers, friends, and loved ones, who were unfairly ripped away because one radicalized, hate-filled Trump supporter took it upon himself to commit a mass shooting.

This year on Jan. 29 and 30, a little over a week ago, there were vigils planned all over Montreal—at least seven of them. When I arrived at the Parc Metro station I was stunned to see so few people. What had been thousands the year before was now only around 50.

It seemed that what had happened only a year ago was just a distant memory, that the fear and passion, the commitment to never allow something like this to happen again in Quebec, was replaced by apathy.

Since last year, far-right movements in Quebec have gained considerable traction, with groups like La Meute seeing growth in their Facebook group membership, now over 17,000, with over 500 members being added in the last 30 days.

On Nov. 25, over 500 far-right demonstrators from La Meute and Storm Alliance, armed with pepper spray and batons, marched around Quebec City, protesting the Liberal government’s Forum Validating Diversity and the Fight Against Discrimination. Instead of reprimanding these groups, the Quebec City police pepper sprayed anti-fascist and anti-racist counter protesters, who were unarmed but threw snowballs, and arrested 44 of them.

The original iteration of the forum was to examine the factors that contributed to systemic racism in Quebec. The commission was drastically altered to focus on reducing discrimination in the workplace and improve employment opportunities for minorities and immigrants after being met with criticism by Quebecers.

In October, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard’s government passed Bill 62, which ultimately prevents women wearing a niqab from using public services like receiving treatment at a hospital, taking a class at a public institution or using public transit.

And most recently, Couillard decided against making Jan. 29 a day to commemorate the shooting and denounce Islamophobia.

In just over a year, Quebec’s passion to extinguish racism and Islamophobia has fizzled out. Our government has forgotten its sadness, fear and anger, and instead it has fueled far-right movements by passing discriminative bills and refusing to dedicate a day to the six men whose lives were lost so tragically.

Instead of thousands showing their support on Jan. 29 and 30 in Montreal this year, we were only hundreds, spread out in many small vigils across the city. Yes it was cold, and yes there were over seven vigils spread out around the city, but we fell flat.

Montrealers—Quebecers—need to show our support to our Muslim brothers and sisters more than ever.