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Muslim leaders urge governments to fight Islamophobia after mosque attack

People place messages and flowers near a mosque that was the location of a shooting spree in Quebec City on Jan. 31, 2017.

ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images

Muslim leaders hand-delivered a message to Ottawa Wednesday calling on governments on all levels to act against Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination in the wake of the bloody attack on a Quebec City mosque and the outpouring of support that followed.

Leaders from dozens of national and provincial organizations and the president of the Quebec mosque attacked by a gunman last week called on all three levels of government to take steps against the hate crimes, xenophobia and systemic discrimination.

At the municipal level, the leaders want police forces to boost training for hate crimes investigators and to improve statistical tracking on hate crime investigation and convictions. The leaders asked provinces to establish school courses to teach children about racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other forms of xenophobia. They also called on the federal government to establish Jan. 29 as a national day of remembrance for the Quebec City massacre that killed six people and of action against Islamophobia.

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"What happened in Quebec City is a wake-up call for the entire nation that leaving hatred to fester in our communities can lead to loss of life," said Amira Elghawaby of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Six men died and 19 others were wounded Jan. 29 when a gunman stormed a Quebec City mosque where Muslim faithful were praying. Medical authorities say two people remain in hospital in critical condition. A man who espoused anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views is in jail and charged with murder.

Since the shooting, political leaders and ordinary citizens have rallied to express support for Muslims and to denounce intolerance. Thousands of people gathered for marches and vigils from Victoria to Iqaluit to New Glasgow, N.S. "We have felt the widespread support of Canadians across the country," Ms. Elghawaby said.

At a second event in Montreal on Wednesday, Muslim leaders and human rights activists denounced the return of debate over religious dress in Quebec's National Assembly. On Tuesday, the first day the assembly sat following the attack, political leaders paused for a moment of silence and again returned to a 10-year debate over whether religious symbols have their place in the public service.

"We are once again facing a message from the Official Opposition targeting religious symbols … a message that denies the existence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and puts into question fundamental rights," said Samah Jebbari of the Canadian Muslim Forum.

The provincial Liberal government has a law winding through the legislative process that would demand civil servants provide services with their faces uncovered and would impose the same requirement on citizens seeking services. The measure is effectively a ban on the burka and niqab – all-covering veils worn by some conservative Muslim women.

The Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québéc opposition parties say those measures don't go far enough. They want all religious dress barred from positions in authority, including judges, police officers and prison guards. Premier Philippe Couillard said he's not interested in expanding the scope of this legislation.

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Human rights activist Haroun Bouazzi, who was part of Wednesday's Ottawa event, said Quebec politicians continue to waste their time on hypothetical, marginal phenomenon while real problems are crying for action.

"The real debate is about racial, gender and religious equality among all Quebeckers," said Mr. Bouazzi. "They're wasting their time. I think what we saw last week was a real shift. People are tired about the same old debates about veils and garments. It's time for more courageous action."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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