More than 500 in Mississauga pray for victims of Christchurch mosque shootings
'Oh no, not again,' organizer says she thought when she first heard the news
More than 500 people gathered in Mississauga, Ont. on Saturday to pray for the victims of the deadly shooting rampage on Friday at two mosques in Christchurch.
Speakers urged the crowd at Celebration Square, 300 City Centre Dr., to stand in solidarity with the 50 people who died and 50 others who were injured in New Zealand during prayers. Thirty-six survivors remain in hospital in Christchurch. Eleven are in critical condition.
The speakers, representing various faiths and all three levels of government, told the vigil it is important to fight all forms of hatred and to shut down extremism.
Rabia Khedr, executive director of the Muslim Council of Peel, said the community must remain strong.
"We stand together against all forms of hate and oppression and we will never let it poison our community, our society, here in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon," Khedr said. "It is a difficult time. But we will be resilient."
Three community organizations that represent Canadian Muslims — DawaNet, the Muslim Council of Peel and TorontoMuslims.com — organized the event.
'We are with you'
Mississauga Coun. Ron Starr, speaking on behalf of Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who could not attend, said Friday was a "dark and difficult day" for Muslim communities across the world.
"We mourn the loss of  innocent people," he said. We are all deeply saddened with the acts of hatred and pure evil, such as these, that continue to happen around the world, and we have to do something about that.
"Our city will always stand up for what is right. Here is Mississauga, we embrace our diversity."
Starr said the city prays for those who died and those who will suffer for the rest of their lives.
"Acts like this only strengthen our resolve and bring us closer together. We are sending that message to New Zealand that we are with you."
'Please feel free to go and worship'
Urz Heer, speaking on behalf of Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, said the mayor wanted to let members of the Muslim community know that they should not to be afraid to attend prayers.
"This is what the haters want. They want us to be afraid. Please feel free to go and worship. The mayor has taken every precaution to ensure we are safe here," she said.
In a statement on Friday, Khedr said the organization was in shock over the attack. "The rise of right wing extremism is vividly real even more today," she said.
"We are calling on law enforcement to heighten patrols at places of worship and in particular at mosques and Islamic centres. We appeal for calm in the wake of fear."
'We have a lot of work to do'
Khedr said the violence is a reminder to Canadian-Muslims of the attack in Quebec City on Jan. 29, 2017, in which six men were killed and six others injured at the Islamic Cultural Centre mosque. Alexandre Bissonnette, 29, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the killings.
After the vigil, she said she could not believe it when she first heard the news about Christchurch. "I was in shock. I was like, 'Oh no, not again.' Okay, we have a lot of work to do and the work continues," she said.
"It's just a stark reminder that hate just breeds more hate. We have to denounce hate in all its forms. We need to stand firm and united against it."
Const. Taryn Hill, spokesperson for Peel Regional Police, said seven officers were at the vigil in Mississauga to provide security.
Initially, police in New Zealand said 49 people were shot to death. On Saturday, however, police said the death toll had climbed to 50. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, an Australian man, is the main suspect in the killings.
This afternoon we gathered together for a vigil to stand in solidarity with our grieving Muslim communities here in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Mississauga?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Mississauga</a> and around the world. We stood together against hatred and intolerance. My heart goes out to the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NewZealand?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NewZealand</a> victims and their families. <a href="https://t.co/75ihRKc0XW">pic.twitter.com/75ihRKc0XW</a>—@PeterFonsecaMP