Thousands took to the streets in Quebec City on Monday night, braving the biting cold, to bear witness to their support to the victims’ families.
The day after one of the most serious armed attacks in Canada, which took place during the evening prayer in the Islamic cultural center of Sainte-Foy district, where six men were killed and 19 were injured (five of whom are still hospitalized, two in serious condition), Canada’s French-speaking province of Quebec rallied around its Muslim citizens.
All of Canada showed its support for victims and their families. “They are citizens like everyone else,” said Philippe Couillard, the premier of the province, where in recent years a heated debate has been going about the abolition of religious symbols in public places and the prohibition to female state employees to wear the hijab.
Couillard recalled that words can hurt like knives, and now, more than ever, one must be aware of how to continue the debate and stop the demonstrations of intolerance that have occurred in the past against citizens of the Islamic faith.
Meanwhile, for now there is only one suspected attacker, Alexandre Bissonette, who will remain in the custody of the authorities until his first appearance in court on Feb. 21. He has been accused of six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.
Local police are calling it a terrorist attack (as reiterated by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), the worst to happen in Canada since the dozens of attacks between 1963 and 1970, the era of the Front Liberation of Quebec. Back then, eight people were killed, including the deputy prime minister and cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.
It is possible Bisonette will be accused of counts of terrorism later. The 27-year-old man is a student at Laval University. For now, the university has blocked all his activities, while his employer, the nonprofit organization Héma-Québec, an NGO that manages blood donations around the province, took distance from him. Bisonette worked at the call center.
Bissonnette was described by a neighbor as a young introvert and by many as a “lone wolf.” When his name began circulating, it became known that several Quebecois activists and the Facebook group “Bienvenue aux réfugié” knew him for his anti-women, extreme right-wing and pro-Le Pen (the leader of France’s National Front) positions. He publicly announced his allegiances at the university and on his Facebook page, where he had posted photos of when he was a young cadet. His profile is now closed.
The six people killed were all family men. Belkacemi Khaled, 60, was a researcher at Laval University; Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, worked as an analyst programmer for the Quebec government, after working for the provincial police; Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, and Ibrahima Barry, 39 were inseparable friends, both government employees and originally from Guinea, in West Africa; Boubaker Thabti, 44, was a pharmacist; and Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, ran a grocery store.
All of them moved to Canada in search of a better life and were all perfectly integrated into the Canadian fabric. Soufiane had become “a voice for peace” after several anti-Islamic messages were received at the mosque seven years ago, when it had changed location. At the time, he had declared in an interview with the daily Le Soleil: “I have lived for 20 years in Quebec City and I never had a problem. We live in peace and we want to continue that way.”