Almost a year since mosque shooting, Quebec City Muslims still on edge
A Muslim man in Quebec City was on his way to mosque one evening last January, but turned around when something came up for work at the last minute.
He found out later that night he had just missed a shooting — a gunman had come into the Islamic Cultural Centre in the city's Sainte-Foy neighbourhood, interrupted prayer and killed worshippers, including a good friend of his.
"Right away, [my wife] contacted his wife to see if this was true," said the man, who CBC Radio has given anonymity over his safety concerns. "She could hear, in the background, crying. It was a complete scene of chaos."
Six people were killed and several more were injured. The alleged shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, is to stand trial in March on charges of murder and attempted murder.
Now, almost a year after the attack, members of the mosque community are still on edge. Security is a constant concern.
"Some members of the community refuse to go back to that mosque," said the worshipper. "Others say, no, if we don't go back to that mosque, the killer would have gotten away not only with murder, but getting us away from our right as Canadian Muslims to practise our own faith."
'I am optimistic by nature'
The man said the mosque received an outpouring of support for a few months after the shooting, but then that support started to dwindle.
According to the Quebec City police chief, the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims has grown since the shooting.
Despite the incidents, a Montreal-area imam who gave a powerful speech at a funeral for three of the shooting victims remains hopeful.
- Alleged shooter at Quebec City mosque to stand trial in March 2018
- In his own words: Imam Hassan Guillet's address at Quebec City funeral for 3 mosque victims
"We are going in the right direction, definitely," Hassan Guillet said of the public discourse on Muslims in Quebec. "And I am optimistic by nature."
Guillet believes Islamophobia persists among only a small minority of Quebecers.
"Unfortunately, they are very, very vocal," he said. "You hear them on the social media. You hear them on the main media as well. You see them in the street doing some demonstrations."
Guillet said some of these people have told him to "go home;" he counters that by telling them he has been in Quebec for more than 43 years.
"I know the streets in Montreal more than I know the street in my hometown. And I belong here."
Worries it could happen again
The mosque member said well-meaning Canadians should speak up and "play a more active role to clamp down on these people and to denounce them."
Until then, he worries another shooting could happen again.
"One of the reasons I didn't want to necessarily reveal my identity was just for my own security and the security of my spouse and my children," he said.
"That, for me, is more important than the story itself, because our life continues after the story comes to an end."