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Canada Thousands attend vigils to mourn mosque attack victims

People hold up photos of mosque attack victims Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry (who were not related) during a vigil in Quebec City on Monday night.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Shared burdens are more easily borne, and the thousands attending a vigil in the Sainte-Foy district of Quebec City were there to help carry their Muslim neighbours' anguish and grief.

They gathered in the evening chill on Monday behind the skeleton of a former Catholic church that stands across the street from Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, where six worshippers were gunned down during evening prayers on Sunday.

The occasion was a multi-faith vigil, organized by a committee of volunteers from the area.

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Read more: One suspect in custody after six killed in 'terrorist attack' at Quebec mosque

Explainer: The Quebec City mosque attack: What we know so far

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined hundreds of others at a vigil for those killed in Sunday's shooting at a Quebec City mosque.

Related: Quebec City shooting was act of terror against Canada, Trudeau says

"I came out of solidarity. It's important to bear witness," said Charles Koenig, who lives in nearby Sillery. "I have several Muslim friends … it's been a terrible day for them and for all of us, I don't mind telling you I burst into tears this afternoon. But now all I feel is love."

Mr. Koenig was one of several people to deposit a candle in a makeshift shrine on the sidewalk opposite the mosque.

At a vigil in Edmonton organized by the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, more than 1,000 people gathered on the grounds of the Alberta legislature in the bitter cold, clutching candles near their chest in an attempt to shield them from the wind.

Quebec City's event featured testimonials from Catholic and Muslim leaders. It began with a recitation of the names of the dead, and a moment of silence.

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There were prayers, Koranic verses in song and lots of tears.

Hundreds of members of Quebec City's 10,000-strong Muslim community were on hand, including several close relatives and friends of the victims.

"I couldn't not be here," said Khaled, a regular mosque attendee who declined to give his last name ("after what's happened I don't want to be identified, my wife and kids don't even want to leave the house alone").

A Quebec City resident since he emigrated from Tunisia nearly a decade ago – there was a brief stop in the United States, but the family moved to Canada "because we just felt safer" – he said Monday's outpouring of unity was an emotional salve.

"The people here in Quebec City, and in Canada, they don't agree with this kind of violence, they are against it, and that's why I still have hope," said the father of two, who knew several of the six men who lost their lives, and many of the injured. "It's not a big community. Everyone knows everyone," he added.

Nearer the stage, Dominique Fortin, a senior provincial civil servant, held up a candle and explained simply that "it's about adding up all the numbers, each of us together can make a difference."

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"In the face of something like this, no way can you stay silent, or just stay home," Ms. Fortin said.

Her friend Isabelle Migneault said she decided to attend after spending part of Monday in a meeting with a Muslim businessman who was in tears over the attacks.

"I was headed home, but then I realized I had to be here," she said.

Organizers had expected a crowd of about 5,000 at the event. The gathering filled a large parking lot beside the Notre-Dame-de-Foy church and spilled out into the neighbouring street.

They arrived carrying placards ("Nous sommes tous québécois" – We are all Quebeckers – read one) and candles. Later, they listened to a series of addresses from religious, civic and political leaders. They applauded in gloved hands.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said, "the most eloquent statement of all is being made by your presence here this evening."

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Each of the major federal party leaders was also on hand – the dignitaries later joined a silent procession that wound past the mosque, where they deposited flowers – and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that "Canada is united tonight."

Describing the killings as an "act of cruelty and indescribable violence," Mr. Trudeau said, "we stand with you, we love you, we support you."

"We are here tonight to show that we do not accept this hate," he said.

Toward the end of the vigil, an imam led a recitation of a Koranic verse. The rest of the crowd fell silent as the Muslims in their midst spoke the words with him.

Then they applauded.

In Edmonton, Premier Rachel Notley, Mayor Don Iveson and other community leaders addressed the gathering.

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"That horrible act came at the end of a horrible weekend for people in the Muslim community," Notley said, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump's ban on refugees and immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Earlier in the day, the premier and mayor each made separate visits to Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton. Opened in 1938, it was the first in Canada. The largest in the country, Baitun Nur Mosque, is in Calgary.

"Edmonton is home to Canada's first mosque, and Calgary is home to the largest," Notley said. "They are central to who we are as Albertans. They helped us build our province. No act of terror or injustice is stronger than that dream."

The vigil attracted a diverse crowd, all horrified by the shootings that the Prime Minister called a terrorist act.

"I think it was important for us because as Canadians we are all mourning and we are all feeling a sense of sadness and horror that this kind of thing could occur," said Mustafa Farooq, vice-president of public policy for the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council. "This is 2017. How could this happen?"

Kliel Rose, rabbi at Edmonton's Beth Shalom Synagogue, said he stood in solidarity with Muslims.

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"An attack on any one of us is an attack on all of us," he told the gathering. "This act is an affront to God, and to values held dearly by an overwhelming number of Canadians.

"It is time to denounce and denigrate the activities of the few outcasts. They diminish us all."

With a report from Marty Klinkenberg in Edmonton

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