On Saturday February 4, around two hundred people marched through the streets of Montreal to take a stand against Islamophobia and support Quebec’s Muslim community.
Around thirty people initially gathered at Place Émilie-Gamelin at noon on Saturday, holding signs with slogans such as “united we stand, divided we fall” and “Jews for Muslims.” The march started on Berri, turned onto Maisonneuve Est, then onto Saint-Denis, and back onto Berri.
Despite the snow, the crowd grew rapidly as the march proceeded. As people walked through the streets, they chanted, “Muslims attacked, Quebec is shocked,” “this walk is a hug […] for the orphans,” and “no, no to hatred […] yes, yes to peace” in French.
Bel Agir, an organization committed to supporting the Muslim community in Quebec and Canada, planned the march in response to the Sainte-Foy shootings at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, which killed six people. On the event page, the organization expressed their desire to “convey a message of unity, love, and compassion” through the march.
Bel Agir also posted a call for demonstration on their website, stating the main objectives of the march were: “to […] express our unity and support for the victims against terrorists and their supporters” and “[demand] that our politicians take concrete measures to end all speech of Islamophobia, hatred, and violence, which has long been tolerated, largely mediatized, and recently decriminalized.”
Along with signs, there were many attendees carrying Unifor flags – Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union.
When asked about Unifor’s presence at the event, an attendee replied in French: “We’re here for the march against hate and for peace and for love around world. We are here to support each other and our brothers who died as martyrs, those who died in the last attack in Quebec, and their children. We’re supporting each other. We are against racism, against discrimination, either for race or sex. We are against all forms of discrimination that exist.”
The march ended back at Place Émilie-Gamelin and speeches commenced. The first speaker was Thomas Dowd, a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church. “Hello my friends, my brothers, my sisters,” he began, in French, “it’s an honour to be here with you today to share this moment of solidarity. We saw, at the beginning of the week, a horrible event, but I think we will see the best of the Quebecois people to come. We say, ‘you always hear the tree that falls but you never hear the forest that grows’ but here, we hear the forest.”
Dowd went on to explain his position: “I am a bishop. You may know the title of priest, which is used for our religious leaders. A bishop is a leader of priests. I represent the Catholic Church in Montreal.”
“In solidarity with all Christians, we are here together for peace,” he continued.
Dowd also referenced a passage from a text published by the Catholic Church. “In the sixties, we had a great coming together of all the bishops throughout the world in Rome […] During this meeting, there was a text, which was published on the relations in between Christians and Muslims, and I find this text prophetic and I would like to share it with you.”
He then quoted the text: “The Catholic Church looks with great esteem upon Muslims […] If, through the centuries, many dissensions and hostilities manifested themselves between Christians and Muslims, the council exonerates them all and forgets their past and puts itself fully to mutual comprehension. Therefore, together we will protect all men, social justice, moral values, peace, and liberty.”
The next speaker, Haroun Bouazzi, director of Muslims and Arabs for Secularism Quebec (AMAL-Quebec) a feminist, pluralist association of Quebecers, according to its website, also spoke of hope, liberty, and unity. He first thanked Bel Agir.
“I would like to thank Bel Agir for having brought us together today, for having pushed us to march. There have been many, many things that have been said this week, many beautiful things, lots of compassion, lots of union, lots of strong words from our politicians and many messages of love from the people,” he said in French. “I think we can really be proud of the reaction from the Quebecois people, no matter where they are from, after this tragedy that has touched us all.”
“Today we marched for the memories of the dead; today we marched for the love that unites us, for the justice for which we are going to fight,” he continued.
Bouazzi also stressed the importance of remaining active against hate. “The work will begin by demanding for our politicians, for the media, for our enemies, to put into place real political action against Islamophobia, against racism. We need to demand from our media that there’s a minimum of ethics in public debate. We will remind them, message after message, phone call after phone call, that after what happened in Quebec City, we will never accept again the stigmatization […] And us too, as citizens, our responsibility is immense because without us, nothing will happen.”
Samantha Lustig, an attendee at the march, shared her reasons for attending the demonstration with The Daily. “My best friend in elementary school was Muslim, I had a number of friends who were Muslim women throughout my life, teachers who are Muslim women […]. I just feel like every person who lives in Canada deserves to feel safe. I am an English as a second language teacher. I have students who want to immigrate to Canada who are Muslim, and it’s necessary for them to feel safe here and to know that they are loved.”
When asked if she thought the Canadian government was doing enough to support the Muslim community, Lustig replied, “Nope. The immigration cap is garbage and everyone should contact their local MP [Member of Parliament] stating that removing the immigration cap is essential for Canada.”
Nada Abdelhak, another attendee, felt differently about the efforts of the Canadian government.
“The Canadian government of Justin Trudeau actually I think is the best that we’ve had since I came to Canada,” Abdelhak told The Daily. “I’ve never felt as Canadian as I’m feeling now. I think that he is doing enough.”
While a lot of the speakers at the event focused on the stigmatization of the Muslim community, Abdelhak said, “People are so concentrated on terrorism, they associate it actually to Muslims and they don’t see that this is what divides us.”