Montreal

'What's happening in Quebec City?': Car belonging to head of mosque torched

A car belonging to the head of a Quebec City mosque was torched around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 6 outside Mohamed Labidi's home.

Arson occurred on Aug. 6, just 36 hours after city announced land sale for Muslim cemetery

A car belonging to the head of the Quebec City mosque where six men were shot to death in January was set on fire in early August.

Police have yet to arrest anyone in connection with the arson, which happened around 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 6 outside Mohamed Labidi's home.

The car was a total loss.

The vehicle was torched about 36 hours after Labidi appeared alongside Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume to celebrate the sale of city-owned land to the Muslim community for the creation of a cemetery.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Quebec City police spokesperson Lieut. Jean-François Vézina said the fire is a concern and noted the "accumulation" of incidents targeting the city's Muslim community.

"We're taking this seriously," he said. "We want to find the reasons that led to this criminal act."

Still, Vézina said it was too soon to say whether the arson amounts to a hate crime. He said there was no message left at the scene to indicate a motive.

As to why police kept the incident from the public until now, Vézina said it was done in the interests of both the Labidi family and the police investigation.

He added that it was vital that the public assist police in their investigation of the crime, and others like it.

"[Police] can't work alone in this city, citizens have to share information and contact us when they see anything," he said.

Excrement thrown at mosque shortly after car was torched

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, which Labidi heads, said excrement was also thrown at the mosque's front door a few days after Labidi's car was torched.

"These are no longer simple gestures of extremists opposed to immigration. Extremists acts are now affecting our lives, the lives of Quebec citizens and Canadian Muslims, as well as our property and our religion," the statement said.

Mohamed Labidi's car was torched on Aug. 6. (submitted)
The centre has been the target of xenophobic messaging and vandalism in the past.

Last year, a gift-wrapped pig's head was left at the doorstep of the mosque, and a defaced Qur'an and a hateful note were mailed to the mosque in July.

On Jan. 29, six men were killed and five others injured in a shooting rampage that happened right after evening prayers at the mosque. Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, faces six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm in the attack.

The centre said the people and governments of Quebec and Canada have to start taking far right groups in Quebec City more seriously and dedicate the resources necessary to fight hateful acts. 

"These acts are only growing in number against Muslim citizens," the centre's statement said. "They are multiplying and becoming more serious."

Worshippers shaken

Mohamed Oudghiri, a member of the Quebec City mosque, said the incident has left its worshippers shaken. 

"We're asking ourselves 'what's happening in Quebec City?" he said. "Quebec City used to be peaceful, there were no problems here."

Oudghiri has lived in Quebec City for 49 years, he said, and no longer considers himself an immigrant, but a Québécois. 

Nonetheless, he said the discourse around immigrants in Quebec is creating a situation that he described as "really hard, really dark" and it's making Muslims fear for their safety as they go about their daily lives.

"The mosque is supervised [by police], but the people are not when they go to the market," he said.

To opponents of the Muslim community among far right groups in Quebec City, Oudghiri encouraged those in far right groups to get to know their Muslim neighbours.

"We're in the same country, and this country is for everybody," he said. "[They] have to consider us as one of them, and we love them." 

'A hateful act,' says Labeaume

Quebec City's mayor expressed concern Wednesday over the increase in incidents targeting the mosque and the city's Muslim community.

"They're adding up, and they can't become a pattern," Regis Labeaume said. "It's very worrisome." 

Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume says he will do everything to make sure that the Muslim community lives in peace after Mohamed Labidi's car was torched in early August. 0:36
He called the torching of Labidi's car "a hateful act" that has left him feeling "profoundly disappointed" and shocked. 

Labeaume said such an act is not representative of the city he leads.

"Quebec is an open city, where everyone has the right to live together in safety and respect," Labeaume said, adding that the arson went against the values of respect for individual rights and diversity. 

"These are our neighbours, and we love them, and we'll do everything that is possible and useful to ensure they can live in peace in their city."

Benjamin Ducol, of Quebec City's anti-radicalization centre, said the various incidents targeting the city's Muslims have left the community feeling isolated and vulnerable.

"The community has good reason to feel threatened because these events are repeating themselves — they're not isolated events," he said.

With files from Radio-Canada's Cathy Senay and CBC's Alison Northcott