On January 28, McGill hosted a virtual ceremony to pay tribute to the victims of the 2017 mosque shooting in the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, when a lone gunman killed six Muslim worshippers and injured five others.
The ceremony brought together members of the University and Montreal community, including politicians, school administrators and representatives from the McGill Muslim Alumni Society, the Muslim Students Association, the McGill Thaqalayn Muslim Students’ Association, and the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill.
“We gather today to honour the memory of those lost, as well as those injured, and to offer our support to their families and friends,” said Principal Suzanne Fortier in her opening remarks. “The memory of Khaled [Belkacemi], Azzeddine [Soufiane], Aboubaker [Thabti], Mamadou [Tanou Barry], Abdelkrim [Hassane] and Ibrahima [Barry] reminds us of the importance of fighting discrimination and intolerance.
“This tragic anniversary also reminds us of the need to reaffirm in our own community at McGill, our ongoing commitment to the values of mutual respect and inclusion – and ensure that we all live up to these values,” continued the Principal. “Together, we raise our voices against intolerance, and we reaffirm loud and clear our ideals of respect, openness and inclusion.”
Husbands and fathers
During the ceremony, Muslim students read aloud the names of each man who was killed, along with a few words about their respective lives.
- “Abdelkrim Hassane died at 41 years old, leaving behind a widow and three young orphans. Abdelkrim was a computer analyst with the Quebec government. People described him as a man full of joy, love and laughter.”
- “Khaled Belkacemi died at 60, leaving behind a widow and three orphans. Professor Belkacemi was a soil scientist and food engineering professor at Université de Laval. His close friends describe him as a good father, always looking out for his children.”
- “Ibrahima Barry died at 39 years old, leaving behind a widow and four young orphans.” [The rest of this remembrance was cut short due to technical issues]
- “Mamadou Tanou Barry. He died at 42 years old, leaving behind a widow and two orphans. Mamadou was an accounting technician in Sainte-Foy. People close to him described him as generous, loyal, patient, welcoming and kind. He died while starting to raise funds for two wells in his community in Guinea.”
- “Aboubaker Thabti died at 44 years old, leaving behind a widow and two young orphans. He worked two jobs, as a pharmacy technician and as a nightshift worker at a poultry plant. He was said to have always helped newcomers getting their first apartments, cars and papers, always devoting his time to those in need.”
- “Azzeddine Soufiane died at 57 years old, leaving behind a widow and three orphans. Azzeddine was a geologist and was the owner of a butchery in Sainte-Foy. Azzeddine always extended his generosity to new immigrants and those who needed it in Quebec City. On January 29, 2017, Azzeddine died by charging at the shooter, sacrificing his life while protecting the others.”
Strength in our diversity
In his remarks, Provost Christopher Manfredi spoke about the importance of coming together to combat the hatred and racism at the root of the Quebec City mosque shootings.
“McGill has marked this day of commemoration each year since this terrible event. Some of you were also present for a ceremony in June 2018, during which a tree was planted on our lower downtown campus in memory of the victims,” said the Provost. “This tree is an Ironwood tree. Ironwood trees have the hardest and densest wood of any species in Canada. This is a symbol of our community’s unwavering commitment to openness, belonging, and inclusion.
“With these gestures, we pay tribute to the victims of this unspeakable tragedy and demonstrate McGill’s deep commitment to an inclusive campus, where diversity is welcomed and celebrated,” said the Provost. “Our university brings together people from diverse backgrounds and of all origins, identities and beliefs. This diversity is a strength, and it feeds excellence at McGill.”
“We can do better”
The ceremony was closed by Sarah Abou-Bakr, this year’s recipient of the Centre culturel islamique de Québec (CCIQ) Memorial Award, for her efforts to promote awareness and understanding of the Muslim experience in Quebec and Canada.
“Last November… my colleague and I went to the Quebec City mosque where the shooting took place to meet with the families, as we try to do every year, and to meet with the board,” said the Master’s Student at the Institute of Islamic Studies. “As we were passing by a room there was a class taking place and a man was teaching kids Quran. One of the board members told me that this man was shot in the stomach during the attack, but he made it.
“I think that this is a reminder that regardless of hate, we are still here and we will be here spreading love and kindness no matter what – and we will get back on our feet every single time,” said Abou-Bakr.
“I am grateful to be among you all today and I am extremely humbled and appreciative to be this year‘s recipient of McGill University’s Centre culturel islamique de Québec (CCIQ) Memorial Award,” she said. “But as much as I am grateful to be the recipient, I can’t help but think of this award as a reminder of the presence of Islamophobia in our society and in Canada. We still have a lot to work to do in order to eradicate this kind of hate. As we mourn, let us remember that we have lost other Muslims in Canada to Islamophobia throughout these past five years. It is terrible, and as a society we can do better.”
Watch the ceremony below.