After Quebec City shootings, Fredericton residents help raise money for mosque
Lincoln Road building is unsafe and too small for 1,000-member congregation
In the wake of Sunday's shooting at a Quebec City mosque, Fredericton residents decided to show their support for Muslims by raising money for a new mosque.
Ben Conoley said he originally wanted to collect money for flowers to give to the Fredericton Islamic Association.
But as the donations started pouring in, he realized he needed to expand the scope of the fundraising.
He talked to Alex LeBlanc, the executive director at the New Brunswick Multicultural Association, who told him the Fredericton mosque was raising money to find a replacement for its current building on Lincoln Road.
Conoley said he quickly decided that's where the money should go.
"It's also a very concrete way to help someone," he said.
He's since adjusted the goal for the fundraiser three times, as money continues to come in. The goal on the GoFundMe page he set up is now set for $15,000.
"If people keep the funds coming in, we keep moving the target," he said.
Fundraiser sends signal of acceptance
Abdelhaq Hamza, the former president of the Fredericton Islamic Association, said the campaign is a strong signal that people accept their Muslim neighbours.
The association saw it when the community welcomed Syrian refugees starting in late December of 2015, and members see it now, he said.
"The Muslim community has always been under the impression that the Fredericton community was very warm, was very helpful," he said.
"The support of Fredericton has been there, but it hasn't been as explicit as this time."
Mosque needed for space, safety
Hamza said the association still needs to get in touch with Conoley to thank him for the fundraiser.
The Muslim community has been raising money for a new mosque for several years.
Before Syrian refugees began arriving Fredericton at the end of 2015, the mosque had a congregation of 500. Now, there are about 1,000 members, Hamza said.
Safety is the biggest concern, he said. The mosque is located next to a busy road and the sidewalk stops right in front of the building, which is very close to the road.
The speed limit also goes up to 70 km/h in front of the building, so cars drive by fast.
This is a concern in winter, especially with many of the Syrian newcomers walking to the mosque, he said.
"They were walking on that section of the Lincoln Road that didn't have any sidewalks, the lighting was very poor, the cars would zoom by," he said.
"We had an accident there a few years back, where the bus just hit a car and somebody got really really badly injured, and it's in the back of our mind."
A few years ago, the mosque bought land outside Fredericton, where it had hoped to put a new building, but decided against building there after changes in the city's plans for expansion.
The congregation now hopes to buy a building inside the city or find a property to build a new mosque.
Hamza said the cost for a new building would be around $500,000 to $1 million.
While they have not reached that goal, the association hopes to get there in the next 10 years.
"If we can find land or a building, we'll move right away," he said.
A difficult week
The support at vigils and the fundraising campaign send an important message to Muslims in New Brunswick, said Alex LeBlanc in an interview with Information Morning on Tuesday.
Since Sunday's attack, the multicultural association was contacted by several people who wanted to help or donate money. And since there was already a need for a new mosque, Conoley's crowdfunding campaign came just in time, he said.
"Ben saw that as an opportunity to kind of reach out to the community," LeBlanc said. "To express to the Muslim community in Fredericton that they are welcome, that they have a home here."
He said this has been a tough week for Muslims across Canada and those close to them.
President Donald Trump's executive order to impose a temporary travel ban on refugees and nationals of seven majority Muslim countries worried many people, he said.
But the Canadian government quickly sent a message that people fleeing persecution and war were welcome in Canada, and those with Canadian residency can still enter the U.S.
Sunday's attacks just a few hours after the announcement, however, left many Muslims feeling confused and anxious.
"Reconciling the two, how does this impact our social fabric in Canada? LeBlanc asked. "How does it impact the perceptions of what the realities are in Canada?
"Like most people, I've concluded that Alex Bissonnette is a sick young man. He does not reflect Canadian values, he does not reflect the Canadian reality."
Setting an example for children
Conoley said the fundraiser was inspired by his five-year-old daughter.
Now that she's in school, she started commenting about bullying and the news from the U.S., he said.
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Collecting and donating the money was an opportunity to show her that people can make a difference, as long as they work with their friends.
"It tells them that they live in a world, despite what they see on the news or hear on the news, where there are kind people," he said.
"And that you can rely on your friends in your community when you see something wrong happening."