By NATE SMELLE
In the wake of the brutal attack on worshippers at a Quebec City mosque last Sunday evening, people of all faiths across Canada and around the world have come together to remember the six men killed in the mass shooting, and to show support for the 19 wounded. Carrying candles and signs denouncing the hate, a crowd of 600-plus Niagara residents assembled on the steps of City Hall in St. Catharines as the sun was setting on Tuesday, Jan. 31, to stand for peace and to pray for the victims and their families.
The demonstration was organized by the Niagara Anti-Racism Coalition in conjunction with the Islamic Society of St. Catharines. As one of the co-organizers of the vigil, Karrie Porter was moved by how many people came out to show their support and affection for the Muslim community.
“Look at these people,” Porter said, admiringly scanning the massive congregation.
“When we organized after September 11, the best we could get out was maybe twenty people. The Muslim community was scared, they were getting visits from CSIS. A lot has changed. We have some really serious problems and I think everybody has finally woken up and recognized that racism is one of them.”
Fox News and the Brietbart News Network falsely declared that the shooter was of Moroccan descent. As it happened, alleged gunman Alexandre Bisonnette was born and raised in Cap-Rouge, Quebec. Various news outlets report that the 27-year-old political science student at Laval University was known as a right-wing Trump supporter who posted his anti-immigrant and anti-feminist views on social media.
At last night’s vigil, as many kneeled and prayed for the victims, their families and even Bisonnette, a young white man driving past the scene slowed down and shouted through his car window, “Losers,” reminding the crowd that racism still exists in our own backyard.
Following prayers, various local politicians spoke. Members of Provincial Parliament Wayne Gates, Cindy Forester, and Jim Bradley, along with St. Catharines’ Mayor Walter Sendzik, each took time to express sorrow, to call for peace, and to speak out against racism and hatred.
“Our love is much deeper than any kind of darkness and hatred that exists in our world,” said Sendzik.
“Today’s turnout shows our community how strong and deep that love is.”
Forester asserted that the current anti-Muslim climate had grown significantly over the last year, fueled by the political rhetoric coming out of the United States. Bradley stated that it is incumbent upon each individual to challenge anyone who uses hateful speech. Thanking the Muslim community for making Niagara a better place to live, Gates pledged that together, “We will make sure that hate will never, ever prevail.”
When the speeches had concluded, demonstrators marched down Church Street towards the mosque on Geneva Street, where they reassembled to share their messages of peace. Holding two signs— one that read PROMOTE PEACE AND TOLERANCE NOT HATRED, and another bearing the name of the organization she was representing, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women — Naheed Qureshi was overwhelmed by the receptive atmosphere. She expressed her gratitude to organizers and the community for making the event so successful. She saw the gathering as an important part of the healing process for the Muslim community.
“We are proud Canadians, and we really appreciate everyone who came here tonight and how much they care,” Qureshi said.
“It’s really very warming and welcoming to see so many good people here tonight who want peace and tolerance and not hatred. It makes us feel that we are part of the community.”