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‘This shouldn’t happen here’: MP for Quebec riding where mosque attack took place

By Rachel Aiello      

Liberal MP Joël Lightbound—whose Quebec riding houses the mosque that was the target of yesterday's mass shooting—said he's watched his very 'open' community experience a surge of racist incidents in recent years.

A large group ignores the frigid blast of cold weather, gathering for a vigil on Parliament Hill on Monday night to pay respects to the victims of Sunday's mass shooting at a Quebec mosque, which left six people dead and more than a dozen seriously injured. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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Joël Lightbound, the Liberal MP who represents the riding of Louis-Hébert, Que.—which is home to the mosque where Sunday night’s mass shooting took place—is calling on his colleagues and Canadians to be more conscious of the growing fear and division that is taking place across the country and North America.

Late Sunday evening, the news broke that a gunman had entered the Islamic cultural centre of Quebec City in Ste-Foy, Que. and began firing, ultimately leaving six dead, 19 wounded, and one suspected shooter in custody.

“It calls for a greater consciousness, because there’s been a growing discourse that has been fostering the fear of others… we’ve heard some, for too long, fostering fear of others and division, and making generalizations,” Mr. Lightbound told The Hill Times from his riding on Monday afternoon.

“I think there has been a degradation of the climate, not just south of the border, but around the western world, where we need to be careful and we need to preach and to be bold in the defence of tolerance, openness, and pluralism,” he said.

The rookie MP told The Hill Times he had just arrived inside his Ottawa apartment late Sunday evening, ready for Parliament to resume today, when he received a message from his mother with a link to a headline describing an active scene at a mosque he says is “right in the heart of” his riding.

As soon as he heard the news, he said he got in touch with the Prime Minister’s Office, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.), and an hour later was on the road, headed back to Quebec City.

Mr. Lightbound said he’s been inside the mosque a number of times for big celebrations, has held meetings with the Centre’s officials, and said that the community had a reputation for being open. People who attend the mosque include his childhood soccer coach, neighbours from the apartment block he grew up in, and former classmates.

One of the victims, Azzedine Soufiane was a father of three, and owned Mr. Lightbound’s local butcher shop in Ste-Foy.

“[I was] just completely shocked and saddened, and angry. The Muslim community in my riding has been here for decades… My second thought was: ‘are my friends ok?’ and so I called a few of my friends… but my first thought was: ‘this shouldn’t happen here.’”

However, it’s not the first time the centre has seen acts of aggression against them, namely islamophobic and racist attacks like the pig’s head that was placed at their door in June, midway through Ramadan; as well as having their windows broken; swastikas painted on the walls; and hate literature distributed nearby.

Mr. Lightbound said the incidents had been increasing in the last number of years.

“They’ve seen the world that they’ve always known, and this community that they’ve always felt like they belonged [in], change around them,” he said, “And now it pains me because I’ve heard some of them say ‘we don’t feel safe anymore, we don’t feel welcome anymore here.’ And I think the message that we need to send them is that they do belong here, that we’re with them.”

The terrorist attack was top of mind for all MPs returning to the House of Commons after a six-week break. Before departing for Quebec City this afternoon—a change in the day’s agenda—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative interim-leader Rona Ambrose, and NDP leader Tom Mulcair delivered remarks in the House, responding to the tragedy.

During these remarks, Mr. Trudeau mentioned Mr. Lightbound’s connection to the centre and implored all MPs to reach out to their constituents to offer support.

Both Ms. Ambrose and Mr. Mulcair touched on the importance of finding common ground on days like this, saying the House was standing together, and united in sadness.

Rhéal Fortin (Riviére-du-Nord, Que.), leader of the Bloc Québecois, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.), will also attend a vigil for the victims of the fatal shooting at the Centre in Quebec this evening.

‘It also reminds us what brings us together’

“It’s certainly not how we wanted to start the session, we’re all coming back from our holidays and ready to get down to work and come here after seeing such tragic events, it’s certainly disheartening and it really breaks our hearts, but at the end of the day I think something that is really positive… it also reminds us what brings us together,” NDP public safety critic Matthew Dubé (Beloeil-Chambly, Que.) told reporters in the foyer on Monday, retelling part of an earlier phone conversation he had with Mr. Goodale.

“At the same time, through tragedy, there’s no better way to start a parliamentary session than standing together, all parties, and showing that we are united in solidarity with Muslim Canadians, and all Canadians who feel touched by this kind of act of heinous violence,” said Mr. Dubé.

Mr. Lightbound said he has heard from many of his colleagues, both from within his caucus and from the opposition benches, who have reached out to express their sympathies and support.

“That is very much appreciated,” he said, adding that in addition to all the resources being offered in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, there needs to a plan and strategy for the long-term.

For now, Mr. Lightbound said his plan is to stay in his riding, but once he returns to the House, he said he’ll be turning his focus to the need “for more tolerance and a change in the discourse.”

Unrest in the U.S. 

Though parliamentarians were quick to say the motive of the attacker was not known, and so a link couldn’t be drawn directly between the anti-immigrant sentiment bubbling over south of the border and the Quebec City mosque attack, the new U.S. administration’s immigration ban of predominately Muslim countries loomed over the entire day.

Over the weekend, an executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump—banning citizens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia from entering the U.S. for the next 90 days, and suspending the admission of all refugees for 120 days—set off protests across the U.S., and at the U.S. Embassy on Sussex Drive in Ottawa on Monday afternoon. 

During his debut press conference as the Immigration, Citizenship, and Refugees Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.) told reporters at the National Press Theatre on Sunday afternoon that Canadian dual nationals or permanent Canadian residents will not be caught up in the ban.

As politicians, we have a responsibility to lead not only in action but also in what we say… it’s incumbent on all politicians wherever they may be from, to show inclusiveness, openness, and to realize that their words carry weight,” said Mr. Dubé.

On the request of NDP House Leader Murray Rankin (Victoria, B.C.), the House adjourned early on Monday so that all MPs could attend the vigil taking place this evening on the steps of Parliament Hill.

The emergency debate called by NDP immigration, citizenship, and refugees critic Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, B.C.) to have the Commons address the implications of the U.S. immigration ban, will go ahead on Tuesday evening.

“I think an emergency debate can really help us as Parliamentarians to say ‘what is the position of Canada?’ In reaction to that kind of decision of the Trump administration, and I think this is so important internationally and with our principle neighbour, and only neighbour, that we should have that kind of discussion in the public sphere, but also here in Parliament,” NDP Quebec Lieutenant and MP Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, Que.) told reporters in the foyer on Monday.

Conservative MP, Gérard Deltell (Louis-Saint-Laurent, Que.) added: “It was very sad for all of us, but very fast we have to think to the victims… the families, the orphans, the wife who lost her husband. It’s very sad, a very sad day.”

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