#RememberJan29 movement wants Canadians talking about mosque shooting and Islamophobia

Monday marks the first anniversary of the shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre mosque in Quebec City, which killed six and injured 19. Coun. Neethan Shan will table a motion to declare the day one of remembrance and action to combat Islamophobia.

Hateful emails opposing motion prove the need for a day to address the problem, Neethan Shan says

A memorial outside the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. On Jan. 29, 2017 a gunman opened fire during evening prayers. Six worshippers were killed and 19 others injured. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A Toronto city councillor who is asking the city to proclaim Jan. 29 as a day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia says his office has been getting hate emails about the proposal, but even some who support the idea wonder if it will catch on.

Monday is the first anniversary of the day a gunman walked into the Islamic Cultural Centre mosque in Quebec City and began shooting at those who gathered for evening prayers. Six people were killed and 19 were injured.

"They were innocent and randomly targeted for practising their faith," said Neethan Shan, the first Tamil Canadian elected to city council and the city's newcomer advocate.

Shan, who represents Ward 42, Scarborough-Rouge River, supports a group called the #RememberJan29 movement  in its push make the day an annual opportunity to reflect on the tragedy and work to make things better.

"It's a day for us to collectively come together and denounce Islamophobia and also to commit to action because it's one thing to make statements, but we have to do something to make our society more inclusive," he told CBC Toronto. 

The city of Markham is the first GTA municipality, and one of the first in the country, to proclaim the day, along with London, Ont.

Coun. Neethan Shan says the response to a motion for the city to proclaim Jan. 29 as a "Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia" has been mostly positive. But he says he has received a fair amount of hate mail. (CBC)

Shan points out that Canadians observe Dec. 6 as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, and he says there are days to address homophobia and remember the Holocaust and raise awareness about the challenges faced by people with disabilities.

And while he has heard from many groups and individuals who support his motion —which will be tabled at a council meeting on Tuesday — Shan has been surprised by some of the backlash.

"There is hatred displayed in many of the emails we get," he said. "You know there will be a long email that is filled with Islamophobic rhetoric and then it will end with a statement that there is no Islamophobia."

Shan says of the hundreds of emails he's received so far, about one in 10 fall into this category.

"These emails and the hate that is pushed towards this motion re-inforces the need for why we need a day of action on Islamophobia," he said.

'There's only so much grief we can experience'

That doesn't surprise Aisha Ahmad, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto's department of political science. 

"In our society it's become more socially acceptable to target and discriminate against Muslims than any other group," said Ahmad, who is director of the Islam and Politics Initiative and a senior researcher at the Global Justice Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

Ahmad, who is also the author of Jihad & Co.: Black Markets and Islamist Power, says simply proclaiming a national day of remembrance for the victims of the mosque shooting won't mean that most Canadians nationwide will stand against anti-Muslim violence. 

Aisha Ahmad, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto's department of political science and director of the Islam and Politics Initiative at the Global Justice Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs.

"The statistical data clearly shows that Canadian do have an Islamophobia problem," she said. "There is a disparity between how Canadians feel about non-Muslim immigrant groups and Muslims and it's clear there are far higher negative responses about Muslims."

But Ahmad says that's not the only challenge facing the #RememberJan29 movement.

She says this has been an emotionally draining year — from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements to atrocities around the world, such as the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Burma..

"The emotional response across the board is in fact waning," Ahmad said.  "Every single day there seems to be an issue to be outraged about. There is only so much grief we can experience on a daily basis."