Six die in ‘cowardly’ attack on Quebec mosque

In mourning: Police say that the victims were all between 35 and 70-years-old. © PA

Yesterday vigils were held in Canada for the six Muslims who were shot and killed in Quebec City on Sunday. The country is famously welcoming to all cultures — are those values under threat?

‘Why is this happening here? This is barbaric.’ Mohamed Yangui is president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. He was not inside during evening prayers on Sunday night. But at around 8pm he had started getting frantic calls — the mosque was under attack. A man had opened fire on the worshippers, killing six people and injuring 17 more.

That man has now been arrested, although at the time of writing his motivation was unknown.

But Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, condemned it as an act of terror against Muslims. ‘Diversity is our strength,’ he said in a statement. ‘And religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.’

The shooting came just a day after he had tweeted #WelcomeToCanada in support of refugees ‘fleeing persecution’. His pointed words were a response to the chaotic events below the border in the USA, where President Trump had provoked outrage by barring the citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering.

Canada, in contrast, is maintaining its tradition of being open to immigration from all different cultures. Earlier this year Charles Foran, head of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, argued that his country was ‘the last immigrant nation left standing’. Trump may be building walls, Britain may be leaving the EU, France may be considering electing the nationalist Marine le Pen — but for Canadians, it is business as usual. They welcomed 300,000 newcomers in 2016, including 48,000 refugees.

In 2015, Trudeau even suggested that Canada was the ‘first postnational state.’

This, said Foran, can be traced back to the welcome that Europeans received from indigenous people four centuries ago. ‘They were taught how to survive and thrive amid multiple identities.’

Yet Islamophobia has been rising in Canada. A pig’s head was left outside the same mosque during Ramadan last year. And a survey found that while half the population of Ontario supported taking in refugees, only a third had a ‘positive impression’ of Islam.

Is Canada’s liberal attitude under threat?

Dividing lines

Yes, say some. Tensions are rising, just as they are in the rest of the world. Whatever the motivation for Sunday’s attack, it is proof that cultural relations in Canada are not as rosy as they might seem. And they could be about to get worse — in other countries, terrorism has deepened divisions, not healed them.

That will not happen here, insist liberal-minded Canadians. These were the actions of one evil person, but Canadians do not turn on each other in difficult times. As one local politician put it: ‘When intolerance goes from debate to murder, solidarity is essential.’ President Trump could stand to learn a thing or two.

You Decide

  1. How should Canada respond to the attack on Muslims on Sunday?
  2. Would you like to live in a ‘postnational’ country?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you are prime minister of Canada. Write a short statement to the country, addressing the attack in Quebec on Sunday night.
  2. Write a report comparing the immigration policies of the USA, Britain and Canada. In the final paragraph, conclude which you think is the most effective.

Some People Say...

“A Canadian is someone with a logical reason to think he may be one.”

Mavis Gallant

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not Canadian. Why does it matter what they do?
Even if you are not a Canadian, the country is providing an alternative approach to immigration and refugees at a time when many other western countries — particularly the USA — are closing their borders and hardening their stance. These issues are shaping political debates around the world, so Canada is an important case study if you want to understand the whole picture.
Did the attack have anything to do with Donald Trump?
Some have questioned whether Trump’s anti-Islam rhetoric may have influenced the incident, but yesterday Quebec’s premier Philippe Couillard said that this was not the case. However, he did add: ‘We are obviously in a world where people tend to divide themselves rather than unite themselves.’

Word Watch

Arrested
There was confusion yesterday, with reports that two men had been arrested. However, one turned out to be a witness.
Terror
This is officially defined as the use of violence to frighten people and make a political point. There have been no major terrorist incidents in Canada in recent years.
300,000
This was the official target set by the Canadian government in 2016. It was increased to account for more Syrian refugees.
Postnational
A country which does not have a core national identity, as a deliberate response in favour of globalisation and immigration.
Indigenous
Foran notes that early European settlers often ‘betrayed’ this welcome, and did ‘profound harm’ to the ‘First Nations’ in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Rising
In April 2016, Statistics Canada said that reports of hate crimes against Muslim-Canadians doubled between 2012 and 2014. They rose from 45 to 99.
Ramadan
Islam’s holy month, when Muslims fast during the daytime. The pig’s head had a card which said ‘bonne appetit’. Eating pork is forbidden in Islam.
Survey
By the polling company MARU/VCR&C in July 2016.

Subjects

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