Letter to the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage
January 28th, 2021
RE: National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec Mosque Attack and Action against Islamophobia
Dear Minister Guilbeault,
Four years ago, I was one of a few who flew over to bear witness and support the community when we heard what happened in the Quebec City mosque. We held the hands of the suffering. We listened to their stories. We felt their agony, and we shared their tears.
There was a little girl in the mosque that night, who was running around the back of the mosque, as most kids do, while her father led prayers. When the gunman entered the mosque, she saw her own father get shot. I heard that the reason she survived was because the men towards the back jumped on top of her to shield her from the bullets. Her father was hospitalized and thankfully, he survived. Six men lost their lives to bullets that night, but there are many more victims of physical and emotional wounds.
The night after the massacre there was a massive vigil held across the street of the mosque, on the grounds of a church built upon a hilltop. Tens of thousands attended. All the national party leaders attended and stood shoulder to shoulder with Prime Minister Trudeau. For the first time in a long time, it felt like Canadians finally felt and understood the pain and consequences of the Islamophobia that the Muslim community had long been living with.
The spirit of political, religious and ethnic unity was cut short, however, when a bitter debate about the condemnation of the word Islamophobia, via M103 ensued. This was a motion that was meant to recognize the pain of hatred, but instead sparked a visceral dispute that reopened and deepened lingering wounds.
Just before the first anniversary of the attack, Amira Elghawaby and I designed a campaign of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) to have the federal government recognize January 29th as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia. The Toronto City Council became the first elected body to adopt a motion to recognize the day, thanks to the hard work of then Councillor Neethan Shan, and Sanaa Ali-Mohammed, then an intern of the Muslim Youth Fellowship.
Many municipalities followed, and even the Province of Ontario passed a Private Member’s Bill, put forward by MPP Berns-McGown, through first and second readings of the legislature. The country’s labour movement put its weight behind this work as well, including the Canadian Labour Congress and labour councils and federations across the country.
Though this symbolic gesture was appreciated by thousands of Muslims across the country-- a gesture that recognizes the collective pain felt by Canadian Muslims, we believe that far more needs to be done to meaningfully tackle hate, both online and face-to-face.
I’m honoured to be a public servant in this government on this day. And I’m particularly grateful to you Minister Guilbeault, your team and all the Members of Parliament involved for their leadership in recognizing January 29th as a National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia.
It takes courage, especially in today’s climate, but I’m moved by this gesture and I hope it serves as a reminder for generations to come that our words and deeds matter.
Canadian Race Relations Foundation