National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia

January 7, 2024

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National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia

By Kim Quinn, FSWC Educator

It was just after prayer on January 29, 2017, around 7:54 pm, when brothers Mamadou and Ibrahima Barry were departing the Islamic Culture Centre of Quebec City. Coming down the main walkway, they were approached by a stranger who pointed a rifle at them, and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed; the men, frightened, slipped on the icy path and fell. Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, proceeded to pull out a pistol, killing them both.

The mosque had approximately 40 people inside, catching up after prayer, playing with their children. Panic erupted after the initial shots and people began to flee. Several children were hidden to protect them from being shot. The shooter targeted those within the prayer room.

Khaled Belkacemi, a 60-year old university professor, was murdered facing the prayer wall. Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, was killed next; Aymen Derbali attempted to distract the shooter away from the other people, but was shot eight times – miraculously, he survived. Aboubaker Thabti, 44, was murdered at point blank range, which led to 57 – year - old Azzeddine Soufiane to rush the assailant, attempting to disarm him. A struggle ensued, injuring Soufiane before Bissonnette collected himself, and murdered Soufiane.

A further five people were seriously wounded in the attack, while witnesses to the carnage were forever psychologically scarred by the violence. The gunman would be sentenced to life in prison for his crimes; charges of terrorism were not brought against him. In statements to police, Bissonnette explained his shooting as a “fear of immigrants,” feeling that the refugees fleeing United States were a threat to his family.

The mosque shooting is emblematic of a much wider issue than simple violence or hate – it is a demonstration of radicalization and xenophobia, a widespread aggression against perceived outsiders. People searching for refuge and safety have been met with distrust and even, threat. Lives have been lost as the sense of “us versus them” continues to grow. Canada is not exempt from these fears. In a 2023 study conducted by Angus Reid, approximately 39% of Canadians reported feeling “unfavourable” toward Muslims. Hate crimes toward Muslim Canadians has risen sharply over the past two years alone. Our responsibility, as Canadians, as humans, is to recognize hateful rhetoric for what it is: division of humanity, and dehumanization. The names of the victims should not be forgotten, and the lesson of what hate destroys must not be ignored.

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