Quebec City Muslims alarmed by increasingly public displays of racism one year after mosque shooting


Rachid Raffa is tired and bitter.

It’s been 43 years since he chose to settle in Quebec City after leaving Algeria. But as his encounters with racism become more commonplace, he’s come to feel less at home.

“When I came to this country in 1975 I got off at the wrong airport,” the 68-year-old said during a recent lunch break from his job at the provincial Ministry of Transport.

“I should have landed elsewhere in Canada.”

Raffa has been an active member of Quebec City’s Muslim community for decades. In the 1990s, he was president of the Islamic Cultural Centre, which later opened a mosque in the suburb of Sainte-Foy. He still prays there regularly.

More recently, he’s watched with disgust as mosques around the city are increasingly targeted by vandalism.

Anti-Muslim tracts were plastered over three prayer spaces in 2014. Some had their windows smashed the following year.

Raffa’s sense of dread deepened when, in June 2016, a pig’s head was dumped outside the Islamic Cultural Centre with the words ‘Bonne Appétit’ [sic] in a card.

“My bus goes by the mosque and I often told my wife ‘May God protect this place.’ But it happened,” he said.

On Jan. 29, 2017, moments after Sunday evening prayer ended, a gunman entered the nondescript building in Sainte-Foy.

Six men were killed that night, five others were injured. Seventeen children were left without fathers and the entire city was shaken to its core.

The response to the tragedy was swift. Thousands gathered the next day in the cold, holding candles and walking in silence, to honour the victims.

In the days that followed, politicians denounced all forms of hate speech and promised to safeguard the rights of all citizens.

But the light that emerged during the city’s darkest hour faded quickly.

CBC News spoke to dozens of community members in the weeks leading up to the one-year anniversary of the shooting. They described having to negotiate casual racism, outright Islamophobia and persistent fears for their safety.

Several who agreed to speak on the record refused to appear on camera or have their picture taken. They were concerned they would be targeted afterwards.

The social harmony promised by Quebec’s leaders after the shooting has failed to materialize.

In its place are acrimonious political debates over identity and religious accommodation, a surge in activity of far-right groups and a spike in the number of reported hate crimes.

“Everything that touches Muslims has become explosive. And we are fed up. I am fed up,” said Raffa.

“I am completely overwhelmed that this tragedy has led to the rise of racist rhetoric in the public sphere, to the complete indifference of Quebec’s elite.”

A climate of fear

Shortly after the shooting, Quebec City’s Muslim community resumed its long-standing effort to acquire a burial ground in or around the city.

The city’s first mosque dates from the late 1970s. But families had to travel to Laval, 260 kilometres away, to bury their dead.

They thought they had found a suitable location for the cemetery in Saint-Apollinaire, a town only 40 kilometres outside Quebec City. Even the local mayor was on board.

But a citizens group arose in opposition, and the cemetery project was quashed by a slim majority in a referendum.

Source: Quebec City Muslims alarmed by increasingly public displays of racism one year after mosque shooting

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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