The federal government has announced that Jan. 29 will become a national day of remembrance for the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack in a move to honour the victims and express solidarity with the survivors.
The day will also be used to promote action against Islamophobia, the Ministry of Canadian Heritage said in a statement on Thursday.
“Islamophobia is a concrete and daily reality for Muslim communities everywhere. We have an obligation to remember the victims and a responsibility to combat discrimination and continue to build a more inclusive Canada,” the statement said.
“This tragedy reminds us of the urgency to stand up against these hateful acts and online radicalization,” said Minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault in a statement.
“That is why our government intends to introduce new regulations to require online platforms to remove illegal and hateful content before it causes more harm and damage. It is through actions like this that we will make Canada a safer and more secure country.”
Mohamed Labidi, who was president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre at the time of the attack, expressed joy and relief at Ottawa’s announcement.
“I am very happy about this news because we know the blood of our brothers has not gone for nothing, and it will contribute to have a more secure society and a more peaceful society,” he said.
While the day of remembrance carries particular significance to Quebec City’s Muslim community, he said its importance reverberates broadly.
“There are still people who don’t understand what we work together for: a peaceful society where there is a place for everyone … and no exclusion at all,” Labidi said.
He said the federal government formally acknowledging the root cause of the tragedy is crucial.
“The main reason for the attack … was Islamophobia,” he said.
Quebec society has made strides in the four years since the attack, Labidi said, as has Canada more broadly. But Islamophobia continues to be a problem.
“I was president of the CCIQ for many years after the tragedy and I will tell you we received a lot of Islamophobic words, by mail, by letter, and by social media,” he said.
A dark day
On Jan. 29, 2017, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette entered the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre and opened fire just before 8 p.m. killing six and injuring five others.
Bissonnette was arrested later that night on a bridge heading to Île d’Orléans, an island outside Quebec City.
In his car officers found a nine-millimetre handgun registered to Bissonnette. That gun had a 15-round capacity.
The attack lasted less than two minutes. In that time, 17 children lost their fathers, six wives lost their husbands and many lives were changed forever.
The 57-year-old father of three was a grocer, butcher, and longtime Quebec City resident. He owned and operated the Boucherie Assalam in Sainte-Foy, less than a kilometre away from the Islamic Cultural Centre where the shooting took place.
Soufiane lost his life while trying to disarm the shooter. He was awarded the Governor General’s Star of Courage posthumously.
Belkacemi, 60, was a professor of soil and agri-food engineering at Laval University.
Thabti, 44, worked in a pharmacy and had two young children.
Mamadou Tanou Barry
Tanou Barry, 42, worked in information technology and was the father of two toddlers.
Ibrahima Barry, 39, worked for Quebec’s Revenue Ministry and was a father of four.
Hassane, 41, worked as a programming analyst for the Quebec government. He had three daughters.
Shooter’s sentence reduced
In 2014, Bissonnette was introduced to firearms by a friend. He went on to apply for a licence, falsely reporting he had no history of mental health issues or suicidal thoughts. Over the next few years, he would go on to legally acquire six guns.
The night of the attack, Bissonnette brought a semi-automatic rifle,with two illegal magazines, which would have allowed him to fire 29 bullets before having to reload. While the magazines were illegal, the rifle itself is legal in Canada.
The rifle, however, jammed and was left on the ground. It was never used, prompting Bissonnette to instead use a 9-millimetre pistol he had brought.
In 2019, Bissonnette was sentenced to life in prison for the 2017 attack, with no chance of parole before 40 years.
Last November, however, Bissonnette’s parole eligibility period was reduced to 25 years, after Quebec’s Court of Appeal described the original sentence as ”cruel and unusual” and unanimously ruled in favour of the defence’s arguments.
Earlier this month, Quebec’s attorney general and the Crown prosecutor announced that they were seeking to have the Quebec Court of Appeal’s decision heard at the Supreme Court of Canada.