Planting a tree of life

McGill honours the victims of the massacre at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec
Principal Suzanne Fortier, along with Imam Hassan Guillet (left) and Ehab Lotayef, Eng. IT & Technical Services Manager, dedicates the new ironwood tree to the victims of the massacre at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

A solemn and hopeful gathering of about 100 people was on hand on the east side of Dawson Hall for the unveiling of a plaque and a newly planted ironwood tree in honour of the men who were killed in the shootings of Jan. 29, 2017, at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in Sainte-Foy. A lone gunman opened fire on worshippers during evening prayers, murdering six people and injuring 19 others.

Imam Hassan Guillet opened with a request for a moment of silence for the six men who were murdered:

  • Abdelkarim Hassane
  • Azzeddine Soufiane
  • Boubaker Tahabti
  • Ibrahim Barry
  • Khaled Belkacemi
  • Mamadou Tanou Barry

Imam Guillet compared those who were killed to stars that help in navigating a better future. “I would like to thank McGill staff and students for organizing this event helping us to remember and act in the names of the fallen ones. They will guide and help us build a better future.”

“That horrific incident shook and deeply saddened our country. Today as we gather around this newly planted ironwood tree, we remember the victims of this terrible act of violence and hate,” said Principal and Vice Chancellor Suzanne Fortier. “Our assembly today is anchored to McGill’s steadfast commitment to the fundamental values of respect and inclusion. McGill is committed to promoting a climate of inclusiveness and tolerance which will allow all our students, faculty and staff to flourish in their pursuits.”

Together with Imam Guillet Principal Fortier unveiled a plaque at the foot of the young tree. The plaque reads: “This tree was planted by McGill University in memory of the 6 (six) Muslims slain at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City (CCIQ) on January 29, 2017.”

The McGill crest appears beneath the inscription. Bluebells were planted beside the plaque.

Along with the tree-planting, reference was made to McGill’s new Centre culturel islamique de Québec Memorial Award which will go annually to two students who show a commitment to fostering the inclusion of Muslims within the larger Québécois and Canadian societies.

Amir Belkacemi, son of son of one of the murdered men, Université Laval Chemistry Professor Khaled Belkacemi, addresses the crowd. / Photo: Neale McDevitt

“I am delighted about McGill’s new Centre culturel islamique de Québec Memorial Award,” said Provost Christopher Manfredi. “Much like the tree we have planted, this award encourages us to look back and remember, but also to look forward with hope. The McGill students who receive this award in years ahead will represent academic talent and a commitment to fostering inclusion and will thus be outstanding ambassadors for our University.”

The emcee, and newly elected member of the McGill Board of Governors representing the University’s administrative and support staff, Ehab Lotayef, encouraged those present to support the new award. Those who wish to contribute to the funding of the award can do so online.

“I found Father’s Day, which was yesterday, painful,” said Amir Belkacemi, who wore a T-shirt that read Amour, Respect, Unité. Belkacemi is the son of one of the murdered men, Université Laval Chemistry Professor Khaled Belkacemi. “But it is most important to look to the future. Thousands of young people come here to McGill to build their future. They will see this plaque and this tree. This tree that will outlive me is a tree of love and unity.”

Others who spoke at the event included two men who were present at the Centre Culturel on the night of the shootings: Larbi Yahya and Hakim Chambaz. The new Director of the Institute of Islamic Studies of McGill, Michelle Hartman, and Islamic Studies Professor Pasha Khan both expressed their condolences to the families of those who were killed, and to the Québec City Muslim community.

There are a number of commemorative trees and plaques on the campus, including one on McTavish St., across from the University Centre, in honour of the 14 women killed in the Polytechnique massacre on Dec. 6, 1989.

People who wish to contribute to the funding of McGill’s new Centre culturel islamique de Québec Memorial Award can do so online.