Quebec City mayor vows to give Muslims a place to bury dead

The shooting deaths of six men in a Quebec City mosque is underscoring a concern Quebec Muslims have raised for years — they are running out of space to bury their dead.

Laval has only dedicated burial ground in Quebec for growing Muslim population

Messages of support left at the site of the fatal shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. (Radio-Canada/Maxime Corneau)

The deaths of six men in a Quebec City mosque is underscoring a problem that Quebec Muslims have encountered for years — they have a hard time finding space to bury their dead.

The families of the slain men are left in a heartbreaking situation, said Hadjira Belkacem, the founding president of Quebec's Muslim burial association.
Hadjira Belkacem, the president of the Quebec Muslim burial association, says it's heartbreaking for the families of the men slain in Quebec City that there is nowhere in the city to bury their relatives. (CBC)

"Most people want to be buried here, but the lack of cemeteries is an obstacle, sadly," Belkacem said.

Not only is there no Muslim cemetery to receive the bodies of those who died in Quebec City, there are no dedicated burial grounds for Muslims anywhere outside the greater Montreal region.

Mayor Régis Labeaume vows to find burial space

​Believers have been pushing for cemetery space in the Quebec City region since 2014. Now, in the wake of the terror attack, the city's mayor says it is time to finally make that happen.

"We are working with them to see what they need. We will help them," said Régis Labeaume.

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume, third from left, attended the funeral for three of the slain Muslim men in Montreal Thursday. He's promised to find suitable burial land for Muslims in his city. (CBC)

Several thousand people gathered at the Maurice Richard Arena on Thursday for a service for Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane and Aboubaker Thabti.

They were honoured in Montreal before their bodies are repatriated to their countries of origin.

Another funeral service will take place in Quebec City on Friday to honour Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Azzedine Soufiane.

Mourners applaud during the funeral service for three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The bodies of five of the six men killed in the attack will be returned to their countries of origin.

Mamadou Tanou Barry will be buried in Laval.

Plots oriented toward Mecca

Lilia Derbal, the secretary general of the Muslim burial association, says practising Muslims could theoretically be interred in any burial ground, as long as the plots are oriented toward Mecca.

But she said the association has not been able to secure a section in a Quebec City cemetery that meets that criteria. When Labeaume discussed the issue this week, he said legal and financial issues were factors.

Just 16 months ago, after years of lobbying, members of the Muslim community inaugurated a 3,000-plot cemetery in Laval

It's located in the Laval Cemetery, which also has sections for Christians and Jewish people.

Derbal said there are smaller sections reserved for Muslims in three other cemeteries — one in Brossard, one in Dollard-des-Ormeaux and one at a different cemetery in Laval. 

But it's difficult for families who don't live in the greater Montreal region to travel a great distance to visit the site.

"We look for help from everyone from government to other cemeteries to create new plots for Muslims," Derbal said.

"In a few years there will be no place for our deceased."