It’s a cold winter night in Quebec City with a blanket of snow on the ground. Nearly 8pm on Sunday evening and the Grand Mosque is filled with men, women, and children who have come to worship together. All are kneeling in prayer when an unknown man walks in. Dressed in all black with a ski mask over his face, he pulls out a nine-millimetre handgun and begins to shoot. With the utmost of calmness, he fires at everything that moves, emptying all 15 rounds in his gun. Six men shot in the back slump over as women and children watch in horror. Then, as if nothing has happened, the man simply walks out.
This brutal scene sounds as if it was plucked right out of an action movie, but unfortunately, this is an account by witnesses from a mass shooting in Canada on January 29th, 2017. With over 50 people in the room, a man shot and killed 6 men and injured 19 others at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center. The victims included fathers with young children, a university professor, and men who had immigrated to Canada for a better and more peaceful life for their families.
While gun violence in America is far more common than other developed countries, this event was especially shocking for Canadians where mass shootings are rare, partly as a result of stricter gun control laws. In Quebec City, just 2 murders were reported in 2015, and their mayor even boasted recently that there had not been a murder in 21 months and how Quebec was one of the safest cities around.
In a statement on its Facebook page the mosque said, “We were attacked because we’re Muslims. Shot at point-blank because we’re Muslims. Killed because we’re Muslims.” This religious injustice is just one of many in recent years. According to Haroun Bouazzi, co-president of the Montreal-based rights group AMAL-Quebec, “Mosques have been set ablaze and vandalised, and schools and halal butcher shops have been shot at” as Muslims have been targeted by hate crimes endlessly in the past three years.
Across Canada, candlelight vigils were held in memory of those killed at Quebec’s Grand Mosque. The pain of this community was felt all over the world, and in Paris, the Eiffel Tower turned off its lights at midnight Tuesday in honor of the victims of the mosque shooting. A fund has also been set up to help families of the victims.
In a personal message to Canada’s one million Muslims, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We stand with you. We love you and we support you and we will always defend and protect your right to gather together and pray today and every day.”
What can you do as a peacemaker to reduce gun violence in your community? How can you raise awareness and increase religious tolerance for those of different faiths?