Multi-faith ceremony in Quebec City calls for end to all forms of terror

Members of the different faith communities in Quebec City joined forces Sunday evening — the eve of the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of six Muslim men — to issue a call for more tolerance of diversity.

Faith communities speak as one to mark first anniversary of attack on mosque

"Six of our great friends died violently," said Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. (Julia Page/CBC)

Standing under a photo of Quebec City's iconic skyline, Boufeldja Benabdallah closed a multi-faith ceremony Sunday evening with a tribute to the city he loves, and a call for peace.

"Six of our great friends died violently, taken by bullets shot from deadly weapons," said Benadbadllah, who co-founded the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City's Sainte-Foy neighbourhood, where six men were killed in an attack last year. 

Benadbadllah echoed several other speakers at the ceremony in pleading for an end to violence and acts of terror.

"Let us not forget those who fell at Polytechnique, in the prime of their lives, who were on their way to build this nation, this country," he said holding back tears as he spoke of the fourteen women killed in 1989 at a Montreal engineering school.
The final performance of the evening replaced the "Hallelujah" in Leonard Cohen's song with "Alhamdulillah," which means "Praise be to God" in Arabic. (Daniel Coulombe/Radio-Canada)

The ceremony is part of a series of events meant to mark Monday's anniversary of the shooting. A vigil will be held near the mosque on Monday evening. Several dignitaries, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are expected to attend. 

Sunday's multi-faith event, held in a large Quebec City arena, began with speeches from friends and relatives of the dead.

After paying tribute to her father, Khaled Belkacemi, Megda Belkacemi said acts of hatred had no place in Quebec society.

"It is through inclusive initiatives like this one, where all communities are gathered, that we will be able to build one united community," she said.

Rachid Ben Amor described his friend Azzeddine Soufiane, a grocery-store owner, as a "merchant of happiness who left everyone smiling."
Megda Belkacemi said her father, Khaled Belkacemi, fled Algeria to escape violence in 1994. He was among the six men killed in the mosque attack last year. (Daniel Coulombe/Radio-Canada)

"He knew how to put sunshine in your day. I could always count on him," he said.

Mamadou Tanou Barry's niece, Aissatou Baldé, described her uncle as "a social magnet." She added: "His network grew exponentially. He naturally made friends will all those he met."

All faiths share stage

Between 300 and 500 people attended the ecumenical service in which Jewish, Catholic, Anglican and Muslim leaders took part, after an opening ceremony from First Nations.

The multi-faith event ended with a medley of REM's Everybody hurts and Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. The choir was joined by three children who lost their fathers in last year's shooting. 

Aissatou Baldé said she feels privileged to have had an uncle like Mamadou Tanou Barry in her life. (Julia Page/CBC)
​"We wanted to put the focus on what we have in common rather than the things that divide us," said Bruce Meyers, the Anglican Bishop of Quebec and one of the event's organizers.

Yacov Weil, a cantor for Quebec City's Jewish community, recited El Malei Rachamim, a prayer traditionally offered during a burial service. 

"Beyond our affiliation to any religion, we are above all human," Weil said.

Turning the page

Tracey Martin and Réjean Bouchard were among those who attended the ceremony. They were also at last year's vigil, which occurred with little planning the night after the shooting. That event was sad, this one was joyful, they said. 

Tracey Martin and Réjean Bouchard attended last year's vigil, which occurred with little planning the night after the shooting. That event was sad, this one is joyful, they said. (Julia Page/CBC)
"If it can help to show that there are more people who are open to other religions, [then] I'm all for it," Martin said.

Christiane Gilbert, who attends the Sainte-Foy mosque and lost a friend in the attack, said she hoped these commemoration events will help bring closure to the families of the victims and the Muslim community as a whole.

"This is a last message of hope to show that we can live together," she said, sitting with her three daughters.

More political events in Montreal

Earlier on Sunday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante took part in one of several neighborhood ceremonies marking the shooting across the city. 

"From a city perspective, we need to [make] sure Montreal is a safe space," Plante said.

Unlike in Quebec City, the events Sunday in Montreal struck a more explicitly political tone. They were organized under the banner of "We Refuse to Forget; We Reject Islamophobia / anti-Muslim Racism."

Pamphlets were handed out at a memorial in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood informing people how they can advocate against racism.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante spoke to the crowd at an event commemorating the victims of last year's mosque shooting in Quebec City. (CBC)

A news release sent Sunday morning said, "The attack on the Grande Mosquée de Québec was not an isolated event, but a reflection of mounting anti-Muslim racism in Quebec."

It said the rallies are meant to advocate against hate and racism, and highlight the fact Quebec leaders are not marking the anniversary with a day against Islamophobia.

This story is part of CBC's in-depth look at the aftermath of the shooting at the mosque in Quebec City one year ago. CBC will also have special coverage of the commemorative events on Monday, Jan. 29, including live radio, TV and online broadcasts.

With files from CBC Montreal