Defaced Qur'an, hateful note sent to Quebec City mosque where January shootings occurred

The anonymous package arrived at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City via Canada Post on Friday, two days before residents in nearby Saint-Apollinaire voted in a referendum on a Muslim cemetery in their town.

Note said Muslim community should use pig farm for a cemetery

Imam Hassan Guillet said the Quebec City mosque where the shootings occurred, and the package was left, has become something of a Mecca for Canadian Muslims. (Catou MacKinnon/CBC)

Muslims in Quebec City are expressing new concern after a package containing a defaced Qur'an and a note suggesting they use a hog farm for their cemetery was delivered to the mosque where six men were shot and killed in January.

The anonymous package arrived at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City via Canada Post on Friday, two days before residents in nearby Saint-Apollinaire, Que., voted in a referendum on a Muslim cemetery in their town.

Quebec City police's major crimes unit is now working to determine who sent the package and whether charges should be laid.

"Certainly, we can only condemn that sort of gesture," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended an event in Quebec City Wednesday afternoon.

"Quebecers understand that diversity is a source of strength and when we had that terrible attack in January here at the mosque at Ste-Foy, I saw myself how over 10,000 came out in the streets to recognize that that hateful act did not represent Quebecers or Canadians," said Trudeau. 

News of the package was revealed at a meeting at the mosque Tuesday night to discuss the referendum result, in which eligible residents voted against allowing the cemetery.

The package came with a note saying Muslims should build their cemetery at a hog farm. (CBC)

Mohamed Labidi, head of the mosque's board of directors, said the board decided to keep quiet about the package until the referendum was completed because they didn't want to interfere in the vote.

The response was one of shock, he said.

"There was silence because [everybody] inside was upset. They thought to themselves 'Again? Again?," Labidi told CBC News.

'Tip of the iceberg'

"This is absolutely hideous, it is to be condemned, it is unacceptable," said Joël Lightbound, the Liberal MP for the Quebec City riding of Louis-Hébert. "To do it where — less than six months from today — we've had six innocent people killed is completely beyond me."

Lightbound said he spoke with Labidi Wednesday morning about the package, and found out it's part of a disturbing trend.

"What they've made public, that they've received on Friday, is just the tip of the iceberg. They received hate mail and messages all year long and it hasn't stopped since the terrorist attack of January the 29th," said Lightbound.

"We know that hate crimes in Canada have diminished for all religions but have doubled for Muslims in recent years, so we know there's a problem there," he said. 

'In a state of siege'

Montreal Imam Hassan Guillet said the Quebec mosque has become a symbol, a kind of "Mecca" for Canadian Muslims since the shootings in January.

"We wouldn't expect anybody to dare to come in and attack this symbol for us again," he said.

This latest incident has people afraid, he said, and many are saying they need a guard at the mosque 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We seem to be living in a state of siege and we don't want that," he said.

The package, he believes, was meant to provoke Muslims and influence the referendum vote.

"It was a Machiavellian attempt to excite Muslims just before the referendum, thinking that Muslims will overreact," he said.

"They [wanted to] use the reaction, or bad reaction, to fuel the hate and the fear of the citizens of Saint-Apollinaire."

A similar incident occurred at the mosque in June 2016, seven months before the shootings occurred.

In that incident, the severed head of a pig with a note saying "Bon appétit" was left at the mosque. 

The consumption of pork is prohibited in the Muslim faith.

Guillet said the Muslim community is doing what it can to build bridges, but "clearly there are people who don't want that."

He said Muslims need the "silent majority" of Canadians who oppose such acts of hatred to speak out.

"It's about time this silent majority becomes a vocal majority to make sure that our voice is heard and to isolate these racists and Islamophobes and these people who want to destroy our culture and our values as Quebecers and Canadians," he said.

A 'repulsive' act

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called the package that was sent to the mosque "unacceptable" and "repulsive" during a news conference in Edmonton, where he's attending a meeting of Canada's premiers.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard called the package 'repulsive' and said it was not representative of the attitude of most Quebecers. (CBC)

He said the act was "not unique to Quebec" and it doesn't reflect the true attitude of most Quebecers.

"The true attitude, we saw it after the [January] attack, when thousands of people from Quebec City were in the street claiming their friendship and affection for their Muslim neighbours — that's the true reality of Quebec," he said. 

"There's no room for this in a free and democratic society," he added.

Asked if such an act would cause his government to reconsider its Bill 62, which would ban face-covering religious garments in Quebec's public service, Couillard said no.

"On the contrary, we have to advance on this question and clarify it," he said.

"We remain convinced that we way in which we determine [religious] accommodation must be reasonable, it must be given a legal framework and public services must be delivered with the face uncovered — I believe that's the consensus in our society, and that includes the Muslim community."

With files from Catou MacKinnon