QUEBEC — A commemoration planned for Sunday to mark the sixth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting will be held for the first time inside the prayer room where six men were killed.
Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane and Aboubaker Thabti were gunned down shortly after evening prayers had ended at the Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29, 2017.
Maryam Bessiri, a spokesperson for the citizens' committee organizing the event, said that holding the commemoration in the prayer room was an emotional and difficult decision, but an important one.
"For us, this return to the prayer room is very significant," Bessiri said. "Together, we can honour the memory of the victims and reflect on the inclusive society we want to build."
Five other men who were seriously injured and 35 other people who were present live with memories of the bloodshed.
Ahmed Cheddadi, a survivor of the mosque shooting, said showing openness must not fall solely on the Muslim community, but on Quebec society as a whole.
"I'm here because I really feel a responsibility to my brothers who fell right next to me," said Cheddadi, who has been heavily involved with the survivors' association since the attack. "It is an event that we must never forget, and this responsibility must also be continuously shared by society."
He said many things have improved since the attack, notably the creation by the federal government of the National Day of Remembrance of the Québec City Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia. Ottawa also brought in gun laws in response to the 2017 rampage.
Mohamed Labidi, president of the mosque, said there was the “duty of memory towards the victims who fell in this mosque by the bullets of hatred” and the annual event is necessary to promote good relations.
He called on the Quebec government to do more.
Labidi said that while steps are being taken to foster inclusiveness and eliminate Islamophobia, legislation like Quebec's Bill 21 has the opposite effect. The province's secularism law bans the wearing of religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas and turbans by teachers, judges, police and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority.
"It does a lot of harm to our community," Labidi said. "Our brothers and sisters all feel targeted by this law, which violates our rights and freedoms."
Labidi said he knows of about 50 people who have left Quebec City over the law, which was passed in June 2019. Cheddadi recounted a recent conversation with his teenage daughter, who asked if deciding to wear a hijab would cut short her dream of being a teacher.
"I told her, sadly my girl, you will lose it here in Quebec, but you have a solution. You can go to Ontario or another province," Cheddadi said.
This week, the mosque in the Quebec City borough of Ste-Foy is holding open houses in an effort to demystify the community to the local population.
In addition to politicians and other dignitaries, the anniversary event will hear from youth from the Quebec City mosque and young people from London, Ont., where in 2021 a Muslim family was run down in an alleged terrorism-related murder.
Bessiri said it is a way to ensure the continuity of the commemoration by involving younger generations and "ensuring that there will be a succession and to look to the future," she said.
A Quebec City man who was 27 at the time of the attack pleaded guilty to the murders in 2018, with a judge later saying he was driven by a "visceral hate" of Muslims.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.
— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.
The Canadian Press