Out in the Open

Almost a year since mosque shooting, Quebec City Muslims still on edge

In January, a shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City killed six people and injured several more. Almost a year later, people who pray there are still on edge.
A man breaks down next to the caskets of three victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting during funeral services at the Maurice Richard Arena on February 2, 2017 in Montreal. It's been almost a year since the shooting, which killed six. (The Canadian Press)

A Muslim man in Quebec City was on his way to mosque one evening last January, but turned around when something came up for work at the last minute. 

He found out later that night he had just missed a shooting — a gunman had come into the Islamic Cultural Centre in the city's Sainte-Foy neighbourhood, interrupted prayer and killed worshippers, including a good friend of his.

(CBC News)

"Right away, [my wife] contacted his wife to see if this was true," said the man, who CBC Radio has given anonymity over his safety concerns. "She could hear, in the background, crying. It was a complete scene of chaos."

Six people were killed and several more were injured. The alleged shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, is to stand trial in March on charges of murder and attempted murder.

Now, almost a year after the attack, members of the mosque community are still on edge. Security is a constant concern.

"Some members of the community refuse to go back to that mosque," said the worshipper. "Others say, no, if we don't go back to that mosque, the killer would have gotten away not only with murder, but getting us away from our right as Canadian Muslims to practise our own faith."

'I am optimistic by nature'

The man said the mosque received an outpouring of support for a few months after the shooting, but then that support started to dwindle.

According to the Quebec City police chief, the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims has grown since the shooting.

In July, a package containing a defaced Qur'an arrived at the mosque. That same weekend, a town outside Quebec City voted against a planned Muslim cemetery.

Left to right, Boufeldja Benabdallah, interim coordinator at the Centre Islamique de Quebec, Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume and Mohamed Labidi shake hands after they announced the establishment of a Muslim cemetery, at city hall in Quebec City last August. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Quebec City's Muslim community finally secured land for a cemetery in August. But less than two days later, the head of the Quebec City mosque's car was torched outside his home.

Despite the incidents, a Montreal-area imam who gave a powerful speech at a funeral for three of the shooting victims remains hopeful.

"We are going in the right direction, definitely," Hassan Guillet said of the public discourse on Muslims in Quebec. "And I am optimistic by nature."

Guillet believes Islamophobia persists among only a small minority of Quebecers.

"Unfortunately, they are very, very vocal," he said. "You hear them on the social media. You hear them on the main media as well. You see them in the street doing some demonstrations."

Montreal imam Hassan Guillet gave a powerful speech in February at a Quebec City funeral for three of the six men who died in the mosque shooting. (CBC)

Guillet said some of these people have told him to "go home;" he counters that by telling them he has been in Quebec for more than 43 years.

"I know the streets in Montreal more than I know the street in my hometown. And I belong here."

Worries it could happen again

The mosque member said well-meaning Canadians should speak up and "play a more active role to clamp down on these people and to denounce them."

Until then, he worries another shooting could happen again.

Bullet holes were seen in the wall of a column inside the Quebec City mosque where six people were killed during evening prayers on Jan. 29, 2017. (Pascal Poinlaine/Radio-Canada)

"One of the reasons I didn't want to necessarily reveal my identity was just for my own security and the security of my spouse and my children," he said.

"That, for me, is more important than the story itself, because our life continues after the story comes to an end."