Vigils held across Canada for Quebec mosque shooting victims
QUEBEC -- Roseline Bouchard wept quietly as she stood in the front row at a Quebec City vigil Monday just down the street from a mosque that was the scene of a deadly shooting that grabbed the world's attention.
In front of Bouchard, religious and political leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, condemned a massacre that left six men dead and wounded 19.
Behind her, a huge crowd of hundreds of people came together in the biting cold to grieve and to show their support for the Muslim community.
Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old Laval University student, is charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.
At vigils across Canada on Monday, thousands of people stood in solidarity with Muslims.
Earlier in the day, Bouchard, a Muslim, said she offered her support directly to the wives of four men who were gunned down in the attack during prayers in the city's Ste-Foy area.
The husbands of three of the women she met Monday died from their injuries. The other man, she added, was hit by five bullets and was fighting for his life.
"We hugged, we kissed, we were all sisters in humanity," said Bouchard, who's concerned about the future. "It's not easy -- there's a lot of work to do to rebuild the bridge between people. ... The hatred has to end."
From the stage, Trudeau said the first names of each of the victims. He told the crowd that Muslim Canadians are valued members of every community.
"The six men who were killed and all the others who were wounded do not represent a threat -- they were ordinary Canadians like us all," said Trudeau, whose eyes welled up as religious leaders spoke.
"Unspeakable cruelty and violence perpetrated on those who came together in friendship and in faith. We stand with you, we love you and we support you."
The Quebec City vigil, which was followed by a march, was one of many events held across Canada.
In Montreal, subway entrances and streets were swarmed as several thousand people made their way to a vigil.
Many carried candles and openly wept as local Muslim speakers went onstage to denounce Islamophobia. Others carried signs and stood atop a snowbank chanting anti-racist slogans as a crowd cheered below.
"I'm very sad but it calms me and gives me hope to see our co-citizens share our pain," said Behnas, who held a sign that read: "I'm Muslim, I'm Canadian, I'm a Quebecer and I'm sad."
On Parliament Hill, Gov. Gen. David Johnston addressed a gathering of hundreds of people on a frigid night. He said Canadians must come together.
The crowd stood silently as the names of the six people killed in the attack were read aloud.
In Halifax, hundreds turned out in front of city hall -- a gathering spot illuminated by candles. People stood silently in tribute.
Visibly emotional, Mayor Mike Savage told the crowd that he was "heartbroken" by the senseless act of violence in Quebec City.
"It's just a chance to light a candle and let people know we will not be defeated by these kind of acts," Savage said of the gathering.
The crowd observed a moment of silence before a lone trumpeter softly played "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as a tribute.
Imam Syed Shah told the crowd the killings during prayer at the mosque were a "cowardly act."
"I thank all of you for coming out with a candle in your hands to show solidarity and to show that we condemn these kind of terrorist attacks," he said.
In Western Canada, hundreds turned out at vigils in large cities including Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary.
In Winnipeg, support and prayers were offered, along with on offer from the Manitoba Islamic Association.
"Come visit the mosque and see what it's like if you've never been here," said Tasneem Vali. "We welcome you."
In Calgary, where the flag at city hall was lowered in honour of the shooting victims, there were also expressions of fear.
"I'm very horrified and quite concerned about the well-being of Canadian Muslims and the safety and security of our mosques and our women and our children and our men," said Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy.
Calgary police have increased their patrols of local mosques but said they have received no specific threats.
"We stand with the community during this difficult time," said acting deputy chief Cliff O'Brien, who said patrol members were asked to stop by mosques that morning if they had time. "For those worshippers, what it does is, I think, it lets them know that we do care and that we're out there and that increased presence is a good thing."
In Regina, shouts of "We love you" and "We stand with you" were heard as speakers addressed the crowd.
Russell Mitchell-Walker, a United Church minister, was there to show his support to the Muslim community: "I have a very important belief that faith is really important, and it doesn't matter what kind of faith."
Back in Quebec City, Asma Nisabour, who moved from Morocco 10 years ago, was encouraged to see so many people at the vigil.
The crowd was so large that it spilled far beyond a large church parking lot and down nearby streets.
"It's a good sign people are here," Nisabour said. "It shows people reject any act of terrorism, any act of Islamophobia."