Quebec attack stirs memories of mosque vandalism in Cold Lake

The attack at a Quebec City mosque Sunday has brought back distressing memories for people in Cold Lake.

'Go Home' was spray-painted on the walls of the Cold Lake Mosque in 2014 and 2015

Anti-Muslim messages were scrawled on the Cold Lake Mosque in October, 2014.

The attack at a Quebec City mosque Sunday has brought back distressing memories for people in Cold Lake.

The Cold Lake Mosque was vandalized twice in the past few years. In 2014, windows were broken and the words "Go Home" were spray-painted on a wall. In 2015 the same message was found scrawled on the walls.

The violence in Quebec puts the vandalism in perspective for Mahmoud Elkadri, manager of the mosque in Cold Lake, 295 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

"Cleaning the wall … and replacing the glass is easy," Elkadri said Monday. "But when you lose somebody, now how can you replace that?"

Residents of Cold Lake came out to show support for the Muslim community and counter graffiti messages in October, 2014.

It's hard not to be concerned after six people were killed and five others seriously injured in the Quebec City shooting attack, Elkadri admitted.

"I started crying, thinking of the victims," he said. "These people, they just went to pray and all of a sudden they never came back home alive."

He said when he goes to prayers himself, he will be thinking of what happened.

Elkadri said he visited the RCMP station and talked to Cold Lake's mayor.

"Cold Lake is a very quiet, good city to live in," he said. "We want to feel safe when we go and pray, that's the only thing." 

If these places are not safe, what else is safe?Mahmoud Elkadri, manager of Cold Lake Mosque

Craig Copeland, mayor of the city of 14,000, said Cold Lake stands behind its Muslim community.

"They're an important fabric for our city here in Cold Lake, so you think of them when something like this happens and you're just thankful that it didn't occur in our city."

Copeland remembers how the vandalism at the mosque got international media attention. He pointed out that the majority of Cold Lake residents denounced the action and turned out to help clear the graffiti from the walls.

"The people responsible, I think, in the end, had seen the backlash from the community that this was not acceptable behaviour," the mayor said.

"I think that's the important message that with this incident in Quebec, is that we all stand as Canadians and say that we can't have this going on in our country."

Mahmoud Elkadri said a teenager took responsibility and apologized for the vandalism on the mosque in 2015.

A Palestinian from Lebanon, Elkadri is a Canadian citizen who has lived in Cold Lake since 1996. He sees it as his mission to open up a dialogue with different religions. He visits churches and invites other people to visit the mosque.

"We go not to debate … just agree to the common things that we have. People will have differences," he said.

"For Canadians, we have to be more open together, we have to talk to each other, we have to know the truth more than just blaming."

The mosque learned that a teenager was behind the 2015 vandalism. The mosque didn't push for charges and the teenager ended up taking responsibility and apologizing.

"He wrote a letter saying he will be a better person and he will never do this again," Elkadri said.

"You go to a church, you go to a mosque, you go to a temple to feel comfortable there," he said. "If these places are not safe, what else is safe?"