Montreal, Canada – Four years have passed since an armed man stormed a mosque in Quebec, Canada, killing six people and hurt several others. But Boufeldja Benabdallah says the passage of time has not made the pain go away.
“It always feels like it was yesterday,” said Benabdallah, co-founder and spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, where the deadly attack took place on January 29, 2017.
Six men were killed in the rampage, which sent shockwaves across Canada and prompted mass vigils and pledges from the highest levels of government to fight Islamophobia and racism.
The striker, Alexandre Bissonnette, pleaded guilty in 2018 to six counts of first degree murder and six counts of attempted murder and was condemned in 2019 to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 40 years.
In November, a Quebec court ruled he could apply for parole in 25 years.
Benabdallah told Al Jazeera that a year after the attack, he asked the families of the six men who were killed if the annual commemorations made them uncomfortable.
“They were unanimous in saying, ‘No, we want commemorations to take place every year – don’t forget our husbands, don’t forget those who have been injured, don’t forget us and don’t forget the mosque.’”
This year, with COVID-19 skyrocketing across Canada, the grim anniversary will be marked primarily by virtual events. A physically distant rally in Montreal, the largest city in Quebec, is also planned.
The commemorations provide a chance to examine the root causes of the attack and push for concrete changes to prevent similar events from happening again, said Yusuf Faqiri, director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (CNMC) in Quebec.
“This day must be recognized to know what hate can do,” he told Al Jazeera.
Thursday, Canada ad plans to designate January 29 as the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia – after years of lobbying by faith, community and advocacy groups no one across the country.
“Four years ago, an act of terror claimed the lives of six people at the Grande Mosquée de Québec,” the government statement read.
“Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzeddine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti were fathers, husbands, relatives, colleagues and Muslims… Islamophobia, hatred and radicalization – and the denial of these realities – are on the agenda. origin of this horrible reality. criminality.”
Faqiri said the designation was “an important start” which paid tribute to the victims of the attack. “But there is still a lot to do,” he added.
“We have been very clear; we continue to call for a national strategy against white supremacy.
The attacker, Bissonnette, had espoused anti-immigrant views and followed far-right commentators and politicians online, local media reported.
Recent incidents, including assassination of a mosque guard near Toronto, raised concerns about potential violence from far-right groups, which researchers say are a growing threat in Canada.
For the past four years, members of the Quebec Mosque have sought to raise awareness of the need to curb incitement to violence and hatred online, while calling for gun control legislation.
Abderrahim Loukili, the current president of the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, said the work of building understanding between people continues locally in Quebec.
But “it is sadness that reigns there” this week, he said, adding that the anniversary of the mosque attack offers a chance to help the families of the victims come a little closer to the normality.
“I can’t talk about healing or anything, but at least [it’s an opportunity] so that these families know that their loved ones have not been lost in vain, ”he told Al Jazeera.
“This is an opportunity to take stock, to take stock of the problems that arose during this unfortunate event and where we are today… The worst for these families is to feel like theirs. [loved-ones] were lost for nothing.