Opinion: The night that terror came to Quebec

Jan 30 2017, 3:52 pm

It was a Sunday night, and like most of us I was unwinding from the weekend, gearing up for the week to come. I had been watching the SAG Awards, one of those fluffy awards shows where everyone is dressed up, looking impossibly beautiful, and no real effort is required of my brain.

I had just finished watching a very moving acceptance speech by actor Mahershala Ali, an emotional and thoughtful plea for inclusion and unity in these disturbing times. When I went to post a link of the video on social media I noticed that “fusillade” and “Quebec” were trending so I scrolled down my feed to find out more. What I saw immediately made my heart sink.

Two masked gunmen had opened fire on dozens of worshippers in a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers, killing six people (all men) and leaving many fighting for their lives. According to a provincial police spokesperson, the victims were between the ages of 35 and 60. At least 12 other people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

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The two suspects have been arrested and the police have stated that nothing leads them to believe that others were involved. Politicians of all stripes have come forward to condemn the acts of violence and to offer their support to Quebec’s Muslim community. From Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, everyone has referred to it as a senseless act of violence. Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume barely looked like he was holding it together Sunday night while making his official statement for the media.

Quebec in its entirety is both in mourning and in shock.

Early Monday morning, provincial police confirmed that the two people arrested are in their late twenties to early thirties and were not previously known to them. Quebec police, who have never had to deal with an attack of such magnitude, are continuing the investigation to determine the motivation behind this act of terror. In the meantime, they have increased security around all mosques for morning prayers.

Since the event, lots has been said and speculated about the origins of the shooters, their motivations, and what this all ultimately means for Quebec, Canada, and our overall approach to immigration and the world’s refugees. Most of the (often reckless and irresponsible) speculation has been unfolding on social media. The police (and most media) have reiterated that very little is known at the moment and to draw any conclusions would be hasty and pointless.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the speculation from happening, and most people are only too quick to make the links that support their particular ideology and narrative. Theories abound, with some claiming the shooters were Muslim refugees, and others laying the blame on far-right neo-Nazi hate groups, firmly ensconced in Quebec and spewing their hate of Muslims every opportunity that they get. The truth is we don’t know yet and there has been no official confirmation or support for either of these theories making the rounds.

What we do know is that six innocent people have died and others are fighting for their lives right now. What we do know is that there are families whose lives changed forever on Sunday night. What we do know is that children lost their fathers, wives lost their husbands, and mothers lost their sons in a senseless act of violence perpetuated in the most cowardly way possible — at a place of refuge and worship, in a moment of solemn prayer.

What do you write when you’re asked to comment on an event that has you reeling and feeling so lost? What do you say when you can’t find any words that can adequately express your horror, disbelief, sadness, anger, and worry? Who do you blame for an act that’s so utterly senseless and cruel, bereft of any humanity?

I don’t know much, but I do know this. Now, more than ever, we need to stand united and support one another. Terrorist acts are meant to divide and sow the seeds of hate and intolerance. Terrorism, by its very definition, wants you to be terrified, too afraid to love, to reach out, to give the benefit of the doubt. It wants you to cower, to be suspicious, to shield yourself and close yourself off to the “other.” It’s exactly what’s happening right now in the United States under President Trump, and it’s precisely what I don’t wish for Canada.

There is no question that we are living in a profoundly damaged world and in profoundly troubling times. Hate, identity politics (both here and around the world), xenophobia, Islamophobia, intolerance, and the politically opportunistic rhetoric of division and distrust (both here at home and south of the border) have only increased the malaise, normalized the ugly, emboldened the racists, and undoubtedly contributed to acts like these where troubled angry young men take out their hate on innocent targets.

But hate, distrust, and turning into ourselves isn’t the answer. It never is. It never will be. Canada needs to remain steadfast and firm with its extended-hand immigration and refugee policies. Close to 40,000 Syrian refugees have peacefully made their homes here in the past year, and our country is opening its arms to 300,000 immigrants in 2017, and we should continue to welcome them as long as global humanitarian crises continue to create refugees desperately in need of shelter and refuge.

Scottish novelist and war correspondent J.M. Ledgard once wrote: “Life is never neat, it is made up of doors and trapdoors. You move down baroque corridors, and even when you think you know which door to open, you still need the courage to choose.”

Choose love. The other doors lead nowhere.

A vigil in solidarity with Quebec’s Muslim community is planned tonight at 6 pm outside of Parc Metro Station. The details are here.