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What does the recent shooting in Quebec City mean for minorities in Canada?

Updated Jan 30, 2017 11:19pm


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There is no safe place left anymore.

It is hard to imagine a quieter suburb than Sainte Foy and a town quainter than Quebec City. But this façade of calm and peace collapsed Sunday night when at least two masked gunmen stormed a mosque in Sainte Foy and shot dead at least six Muslims. Several others were seriously injured.

Details about the mass murder, which appears to be hate motivated, are trickling in.

Only months earlier, someone left a pig’s head and a hate-laden message at the front door of the same mosque.

Wrapped in plastic, a greeting card accompanied the pig’s head that read in French Bon appétit, or eat well. The perpetrators knew that Muslims, just like observant Jews, don’t consume pork. It was not a peace offering.

Sunday's attack is a deliberate act of violence intended to terrorise Quebec’s minority groups.

Quebec is unique in Canada and North America for its distinct cultural roots. Most Quebecers speak French as their first or only language. For decades, French-speaking Quebecers have campaigned for independence from the rest of Canada. A 1995 referendum on the future of Quebec was decided by less than a percentage point difference when 50.6% Quebecers voted not to separate.

It is not just the French language, cuisine or architecture that makes Quebec unique. Most Quebecers have strong opinions about religion. The Quiet Revolution, as it is known in Quebec, was the people’s reaction against organised religion. Thus most Quebecers are steadfast seculars and oppose any overt manifestation of religion in the public sphere. Some also campaigned to remove a crucifix that hangs in Quebec’s National Assembly.

To have a mass murder unfold in the heart of secular Canada appears a puzzle. Quebec City, a mid-sized town of half-a-million is the capital of Quebec, Canada’s second most populous province. The city had its fair share of conflicts starting with the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759 when the English and the French fought for its control.

But that was in the past. Today’s Quebec City is a sophisticated, modern town that has remained faithful to its traditions.

The city is home to Canada’s oldest institution of higher learning, Université Laval, which opened its doors in 1663. A modern university with over 35,000 students, Laval attracts brilliant minds from across Canada and the world. The city’s architecture is perhaps Europe’s farthest outpost where Château Frontenac’s stunning façades rival the very best across the Atlantic.

Why then such a ghastly act of violence descended on Quebec City?

Regrettably, this is not the first incident of mass shooting in Quebec. The worst known incident took place in Quebec’s largest city, Montreal, where a deranged man shot dead several women studying engineering at École Polytechnique.

14 women lost their lives on that fateful day in December 1989. The 25-year old murderer, Marc Lépine, was born to an Algerian immigrant and a Canadian woman.

Quebec can be a tough place for immigrants. I lived in Montreal for several years when I taught at McGill University. Immigrants are often caught between the subtle struggle between the Anglophones and Francophones. Both want to influence Quebec, and both have succeeded only temporarily.

Often, the province is governed by a separatist political party whose stated aim is to separate Quebec from Canada. In the larger struggle for an independent homeland for Francophones, immigrants become the unintended victims.

I am reminded of the ordeal of a McGill student who was detained by the police for taking photographs at a transit station. The student, a native of Montreal, was of Sri Lankan heritage and worked in my research lab at the university. I had assigned him to document commuter flows at a subway station. He carried a letter from me explaining his assignment in case someone would question him. He was still arrested and charged.

On any given day, hundreds of visitors take thousands of photographs while riding Montreal’s buses, subways, and trains. They are neither discouraged nor detained. Yet, a dark-skinned young man with a camera put the security establishment in overdrive. Months later the authorities settled the matter out of court.

Such incidents are not necessarily rare. As recently as in 2013, the then provincial government run by the separatist Parti Québécois proposed a secular charter, Bill 60, which would have, among numerous other provisions, prevented public sector employees from wearing religious gear and symbols.

Hijab wearing Muslim women, and men who wore religious headgear, e.g., Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, and observant Muslims were the direct victims of Bill 60.

Several incidents of hate and racism followed when individuals tried to forcibly remove hijab from women in malls and on public transit. The crucifix hanging in the Quebec’s National Assembly was exempted.

Muslims are not the only victims of the infrequent racism in Quebec. In April 2016, Supninder Singh Khehra, while vacationing in Quebec City, was verbally abused and physically attacked by a group of men.

The Toronto native was trying to hail a cab in Quebec City when a group of young men in a car first hurled insults at him and then attacked him. The perpetrators ran away when the police arrived at the scene.

“I’m really worried about the safety and wellbeing of young kids of my community who wear turbans,” Mr Khehra told a news reporter.

Mr Khehra believed that he was attacked because of his race, colour, and the headgear. The Quebec police, however, didn’t consider it a hate crime.

The video of the attack is available online and leaves little to the imagination. It was a hate crime and ignoring it would only encourage bigots. One of the attackers, Gabriel Royer-Tremblay, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 months.

Mohammed Yangui, president of the Quebec City mosque, confirmed that the remains of the victims were already in the city’s morgue. There could be more fatalities as the number of injured is large. For now, at least six families in Quebec City, have lost a loved one in an act of terror.

It is hard to say what the future holds for the minorities in North America. American President, Donald Trump, has restricted nationals from seven Muslim-dominated countries from visiting the United States. Mr Trump is about to build a wall with Mexico. The space and welcome for refugees are fast shrinking in Mr Trump’s America.

Canada, despite the carnage in Quebec City, remains a welcoming place for refugees. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, pledged to keep Canada’s doors open to victims of war and violence.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength,” he wrote in a tweet.

Are you an immigrant living in Canada who has experienced discrimination? Share it with us at


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Author Image

Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

mansoor mubeen Jan 30, 2017 12:47pm

pragmatically speaking americans have a right to make laws that suit to them so they have a right to expel muslims or ban their entry . but at the same time they should understand and appreciate the fact that it is the liberal immigration policy which has built america. it is the will and hard work with most couregeous entrepreneurship which has made todays america what it is. and more importantly, will white people of european races would like to leave america as well ? will they also leave the soil to the original land owners ( red indians as they are called )

Rizwan Jan 30, 2017 12:55pm

Well there goes the myth Canada is safer than America for Muslims

ABE Jan 30, 2017 01:01pm

This happened right in Americas' neighbor. But not a word of sympathy or alarm to condemn this carnage by Trump or his team of right-wingers.. Tells you how they operate.

Truth Jan 30, 2017 01:08pm

People all around the world, are learning to 'Hate' again. Thanks to Hitler-Trump.

Muhammad Jan 30, 2017 02:28pm

@Rizwan I am a Pakistani Canadian and let me tell you that Canada still is way better then her neighbor south. There have been extrememly lie number of attacks or hate crimes against Muslims in this country and that too have been limited to Quebec . Here in Toronto things have always remain peaceful . And I pray that they remain so

Hasssan Jan 30, 2017 02:34pm

Canada is a great country with great people, my thoughts are with the families of the victims and I know Canada and Canadians will recover and move on in time!!!

Valiya Jan 30, 2017 06:04pm

@mansoor mubeen America should have to retain its liberal immigration policy no doubt of that, but if someone misuse this generosity and indulge terrorist acts in the name of religion what to be done?

Muslim Medina Jan 30, 2017 06:14pm

I migrated to Toronto, Canada in Dec. 1970. Barring a few incidents Canada has remained peaceful to ethnic groups including Muslims. Toronto is a very diverse city and any incident here is more like mischief rather than hate related.

SwamyG Jan 30, 2017 06:57pm

@Rizwan At least Canada has a leader of the government who is balanced, sensible and sensitive!

Mike London Jan 30, 2017 07:07pm

Don't wear your religion on you, be spiritual, religious but do it in private, it is between you and your God, not a public display.

Buddy Jan 30, 2017 07:31pm

@ABE Why do these people of different country leave their self-respect and still want to live in US?? It is their country and their law. Instead of complaining here, we should go back to our home-country.

Truth Jan 30, 2017 07:40pm

@Buddy - Right. Therfore Melania should be sent back to Latvia or wherever the heck Trump found her. White folks should return to Europe. All the former African slaves (black Americans) should be released from US prisons and sent back to Africa. So that the Native American Indians - who were there originally before the invasion - can get their country back and enjoy their land in peace.

umesh Jan 30, 2017 08:21pm

Hate is unpardonable.But having seen how immigrants behave, a relook at the immigration policy of the Europeans, and the Americans is not invalid.

jalaluddin s. hussain Jan 30, 2017 08:29pm

In spite of Quebec's separatist party, Quebec and Canada are great! It is really a multicultural society.

MB Jan 30, 2017 09:32pm

@Muhammad In Toronto, minorities are majority. Please don't compare Toronto with Canada at same pace.

Abraham Haque Jan 31, 2017 05:59am

@Truth yes so should the most Muslims who consider themselves Arabs be expelled from Pakistan so the natives who have lived there f o r generations live peacefully again

Nadim Jan 31, 2017 07:32am

@Muslim Medina Six people dead several seriously injured and you think its only mischief.

Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY Jan 31, 2017 08:48am

The Writer is honest in saying that the future of Immigrants in Canada under the present circumstances looks uncertain and bleak.

Sara Jan 31, 2017 11:35am

All this means is enough is enough. If u come to western civilization then u need to respect their laws and not try to bring your ideology. Keep your religion within the four walls of your house. Don't judge non Muslims and their life style. You chose to come to their country so respect their values what ever it may be.

dabangg Jan 31, 2017 09:53pm

@Truth Melanie is not complaining. Neither are the whites.

Kabir Jan 31, 2017 09:57pm

It is not that whole minority is worried . Only Muslims are the target . There is no racial hatred towards Jews , Hindus , Budhists or Sikhs in Canada . Unless we learn to deal with the situation head on we will not be able to fix it . Please don't drag all the minority in this mess of yours .

Falcon Feb 01, 2017 12:49am

@mansoor mubeen US is not banning immigration as such, nor stopping issuing visas. Based on their own evaluation, they will not take refugees for a few months and not allow people from seven Muslim majority countries for I guess 4 months. If you look previous articles by this author, the immigrants from some countries were least successful. So America is not going to suffer as there is no blanket ban on immigration or visas as such.

Harambe of Cincinnati Feb 01, 2017 07:37am

@ABE : Canadian PM Trudeau knows diplomacy and has condemned Trump's vulgar nationalism. Canadians generally (at least officially) do not harp about "arch enemies" one the one hand and "iron brothers" on the other. Neighbourliness is civilized behaviour.

Amir Khusro Feb 01, 2017 01:28pm

It was an attack by the minority on the minority