On Jan. 29, several campus groups held a ceremony of remembrance to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the 2017 attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique du Québec, one of the largest mosques in Quebec City. Members of the McGill community and the public gathered in the atrium of the Lorne M. Trottier Building to honour the six men killed and 19 injured when Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire during a time of prayer in what was labelled a terrorist attack.
The ceremony was hosted by the McGill Muslim Students’ Association (MSA), the Institute for Islamic Studies, the Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE), and the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity.
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Shanice Yarde, equity educational advisor at SEDE, stressed the importance of creating a safe space for those impacted by racial and religious violence at McGill.
“It’s incredibly important to [console] Muslim students on and off campus who are directly impacted by this,” Yarde said. “[The shooting] was horrific, and a year later the impacts are still horrific, so we have to still be in conversation critiquing islamophobia.”
Six members of the Montreal and McGill community took turns speaking to condemn racism, emphasize the power of unity, and promote tolerance. After calling for attendees to observe a minute of silence, Angela Campbell, associate provost (Equity and Academic Policies), reminded the crowd of the massacre’s widespread impact.
“This tragedy shook our communities, our province, and our country,” Campbell said.
Next to speak was Sue Montgomery, mayor of Cote-des-Neiges/Notre-Dame-de-Grace. She addressed the prevalence of islamophobia in Quebec and urged attendees to interfere when witnessing racism or harassment. She also announced that the city council is working toward a declaration condemning islamophobia.
“Hatred comes from a very dark place,” Montgomery said. “Recognizing that [islamophobia] does exist is imperative if we’re going to change anything in this province.
Pasha M. Khan, assistant professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill, took the podium next, and stressed how important it was to feel both pain and power in memory.
“We all have power, in whatever ways,” Khan said. “But when do we know that we have power? When do we feel that we have power? It’s when we’re putting it to use, exercising power, giving other people power or it’s when other people are giving power to me.”
Student activists Salma Youssef, U3 Science, and Nahal Siraj Fansia, U3 Nursing, also spoke at the ceremony, urging others to practice peace, tolerance, and social awareness.
“When we practice respect and acceptance, two values emphasized by all religions, we eliminate the possibility of intolerance, the inability to understand differences of opinion,” Youssef said. “As we’ve come to learn, ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hate, and hate breeds violence. This day should be an active reminder of the state of our country. It isn’t enough to hope for change. We must be the ones to continue to encourage tolerance and acceptance, and it starts with our own fortitude.”
Ehab Lotayef, activist and IT manager at McGill, concluded the ceremony by announcing McGill’s new efforts to commemorate the massacre and prevent similar incidents. The university will plant a tree on campus in memory of the victims and the event. In addition, the creation of a new merit-based financial award is underway to subsidize educational expenses for students who promote the inclusion of Muslim members of the McGill community.
In an interview with the Tribune, attendee Sara Hany, U1 Engineering, expressed the shock that reverberated through the nation following the attack.
“[Canada]’s supposed to be a peaceful country, so I felt sad that the harmony started to fade,” Hany said. “It’s important to remember [the shooting] because terrorism has no religion.”