Two victims of 2017 mosque attack receive medals for acts of courage

Azzedine Soufiane, who died in the 2017 shooting, and Aymen Derbali, who was left paralyzed, are among eight Quebecers honoured Monday by the province.

Azzedine Soufiane, who died in the shooting, and Aymen Derbali, who was left paralyzed, honoured Monday

Aymen Derbali, seen here with his son Ayoub, was presented with a medal for bravery for 'saving innocent lives' by Justice Minister Sonia LeBel Monday. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

Quebec City mosque shooting survivor Aymen Derbali said reaching teenagers is the key to curbing hate crimes, in accepting a medal for bravery from the government of Quebec at the National Assembly.

Derbali, who was hit by seven bullets and left paralyzed in the Jan 29, 2017 mosque attack, tried to draw the shooter's attention away from other worshippers.

"I didn't want to share those bullets," he joked at Monday's ceremony.

Derbali has spoken often about the attack, and he now intends to take his message directly to teenagers.

He said that once people are in their 20s, it's too late to reach them to change their views.

Derbali's act of bravery, and the sacrifice of his physical independence, has garnered him support from around the world. Friends raised $400,000 to help him and his family buy a new home, adapted to accommodate his wheelchair.

Derbali's 10-year-old son Ayoub was at the National Assembly for the award ceremony and said he is very proud of his father.

"It's important to remember what happened," Ayoub said.

Azzedine Soufiane also received the bravery award, posthumously. Soufiane, one of six men killed that night, managed to pounce on the gunman and overpower him for several seconds, but was killed when the shooter broke free and resumed firing his weapon.

Justice Minister Sonia LeBel, who presented the medals, said it's important to commemorate the men's acts of bravery.

The Soufiane family, left to right, Iliès, Najat Naanaa, Hajar and Zineb, accepted a medal for bravery on behalf of Azzedine Soufiane, one of six men killed in the Jan 29, 2017 attack, presented by Justice Minister Sonia Lebel, right. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

Islamophobia in the province

Last week, Quebec Premier François Legault said that Islamophobia doesn't exist in Quebec.

He later softened that sentiment, acknowledging what he called an "undercurrent" of Islamophobia.

"Just because there's no trend in Islamophobia doesn't mean there aren't people who are Islamophobic," LeBel said Monday.

Derbali reminded Quebecers that the shooter who left him in a wheelchair "targeted worshippers."

Alexandre Bissonnette, who is to be sentenced on Friday, has pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder for the attack. 

With files from Catou MacKinnon and Canadian Press