The sounds and smells from a smudge ceremony and Indigenous healing song filled a small space at a Winnipeg Church where people of all backgrounds gathered to remember those who died in a Quebec mosque massacre two years ago.
Thirty people attended the memorial event at Knox United Church on Tuesday, one of dozens of similar ceremonies across Canada.
“We wanted this to be a day of remembrance not only for those who died in this attack but all groups of people who face hate,” said Shahina Siddiqui, head of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg.
“I thought it was a good way to come together to remember and honour the victims, but also to pledge — to pledge as Winnipeggers that we are going to cleanse our community of hate and fear and bigotry.”
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont, NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth, city Coun. Marcus Chambers, Etz Chayim Rabbi Kliel Rose and Reverend Stan McKay each placed a white rose beneath photos of the dead as the event got underway.
“Each one of them was a blessing,” said Rose.
On Jan. 29, 2017, a 27-year-old man entered a Quebec City mosque and opened fire. Last year, he pleaded guilty to fatally shooting six Muslim men — a Laval University professor, a Halal butcher, a public servant among them — and critically injuring five others while they worshiped.
Hate crimes reached an all-time high in Canada that year, with the largest influx of reported incidents happening in Quebec and Ontario. According to Statistics Canada, the 47 per cent spike was largely driven by incidents targeting Jewish, Muslim and black people.
The number of reported hate-crimes shot up by 50 per cent in Quebec the month after the shooting, and most of the victims were Muslims.
In the two years since, Siddiqui said it’s clear Canada still has a long way to go to become a more accepting and tolerant country.
‘Not just a Muslim issue’
“Things have not gotten better,” said Siddiqui, noting hate crimes and discrimination continue to affect a variety of marginalized groups in Canada, including the LGBTQ community and other religious faiths.
“This is not just a Muslim issue. It is an issue that goes to the heart of our country, to the heart of our province.”
“We stand together against hate no matter who the target is and who is the perpetrator, because we see that what happened in the Quebec mosque was the ultimate that hate can do, right? So it’s beyond words. Now it is into action, and we have to stop it.”
Siddiqui said it’s thoughts of the world the next generation will inherit that makes her motivated to confront hate.
“It’s for my grandchildren. I don’t want them to grow up saying, ‘Why did you guys not stand up?'” she said.
‘You have to speak up’
For all the tragedy in the world, she also sees signs of hope. That a few dozen people chose to brave the blistering cold conditions in Winnipeg suggests there is a will to make stronger, safer and more accepting communities, she said.
“It shows that there is a commitment. It shows that this city has a heart and it has a soul,” said Siddiqui.
“The only thing is, we, the silent majority, has to start speaking up because the hatemongers and the fearmongers are loud and it makes it seem like there are so many but they’re not. They’re in minority. You and I are in the majority. You have to speak up.”
Siddiqui suggests anyone reflecting on how they could be a better ally to different communities should consider reaching out to people they don’t know or attend events put on by the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg.
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