Seven years after the deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque, Boufeldja Benabdallah’s voice broke as he spoke about the killing of six men who had come there just to pray.
They weren’t praying for themselves, Benabdallah, the co-founder of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, told attendees Monday at a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Jan. 29, 2017, attack. They had been thanking God for the blessings they saw in the world when a gunman entered the mosque.
“Within two minutes, he fired 48 bullets, taking the lives of six fathers and wounding five others,” Benabdallah said.
Speakers at the annual ceremony called for the attack to be remembered so it is not repeated and warned of rising hatred toward Muslims in Canada.
“We cry to remember this moment and to say that these are significant moments, moments that must never return to humanity,” Benabdallah said.
Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzedine Soufiane and Aboubaker Thabti were killed at the mosque shortly after evening prayers.
Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s special representative on combatting Islamophobia, said Canadians should be not be afraid to be who they are, or to practice the religion of their choice.
“Today, as our communities are seeing a distressing rise in Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism, we must take this moment to remind each other of the consequences of leaving hate unchecked in our society,” she told attendees at the ceremony.
Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand said every year when he is asked to speak at the ceremony, he tries to find words or gestures that heal the pain people are feeling.
“I don’t know if those words exist, I don’t know if that gesture exits, but we never stop trying,” he said.
Quebec is enriched by its differences, he said, but added there is still work to do to end intimidation, hate and violence.
The ceremony was also marked by calls for solidarity with the Palestinian people, with some describing the Israeli military’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks as a genocide.
Maryam Bessiri, one of the hosts of the ceremony, said many attendees at the event have been deeply affected by the suffering of Palestinian civilians.
“We share their pain and we denounce the silence, the lack of action and the absence of solidarity from our government,” she said.
Earlier on Monday, Mohamed Labidi, the president of the Islamic Cultural Centre, told an Ottawa news conference that the current climate of rising Islamophobia reminds him of the weeks and months before the attack.
“The mosque’s worshippers reported disgusting comments, vandalism and violent actions towards our community (before the 2017 attack.) However, the biggest threat was the atmosphere of impunity. Hateful people felt free to attack us, our lives were considered cheap and unimportant,” he told a news conference in Ottawa. “What makes me angry today is that we’re once again living in this atmosphere and environment.”
Labidi said he believes Canadian governments — at multiple levels — have allowed this atmosphere to return since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas.
He made the comments at a news conference organized by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, where Stephen Brown, the organization’s chief executive, said he had cancelled a planned meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Brown said his organization is receiving more complaints related to Islamaphobia than at any time in the past and that Trudeau’s government has failed to follow through on an election promise to create a victims of hate support fund that would have provided compensation to the survivors of the mosque massacre.
Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Premier François Legault, who have attended the ceremony in the past, did not participate this year, though both made statements marking the anniversary of the attack.
“We pay tribute to the victims we lost to this heinous act of hate. We also stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends and neighbours and reaffirm our commitment to combating Islamophobia,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Quebec Premier François Legault marked the anniversary in a Facebook post, writing that “beyond our differences, we are all Quebecers. We have a duty to ensure that these hateful acts never happen again.”
— By Jacob Serebrin
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2024.