QUEBEC CITY, Mon — On the evening of Sunday, January 29, a solitary gunman entered a mosque in Quebec City, Canada, killing six men and leaving another five in serious condition. Another thirteen people were reportedly treated and released for non-life threatening injuries.

The Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec is the mosque where the shootings occurred. This recent attack is not the first act of intolerance that the facility has endured. In June 2016, during Ramadan, a gift-wrapped pigs head was delivered to the mosque with a note that read “Bon appetit.” More recently the walls of the mosque had been defaced with swastikas.

A gift-wrapped pigs head left at the mosque [Source: Facebook]

The shooter in Sunday’s incident was eventually captured by police, and he is now charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder. He will remain in custody until his next court appearance, scheduled for Feb. 21. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) may also press terrorism related charges, pending the outcome of their investigations.

A second man was also arrested by the police, but was proven to be a witness to the crime and not a participant.

The shooter is being described in the mainstream media as a withdrawn, cut-off ,and anti-social 27-year-old Caucasian male. He is a university student, who reportedly is known to his campus conservative discussion group as being a Trump supporter, “far right or alt-right.” It is being said that these extremist views are what led him to commit the violence at the mosque.

The victims of the attack were all men, who were reportedly shot in the back while attending evening prayers. The six men killed have been identified as Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, Khaled Belkacemi, 60, Aboubaker Thabti, 44, Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, Ibrahima Barry, 39, and Abdelkrim Hassane, 41. All of the deceased leave behind families, including very young children.

In the wake of this tragedy, members of Canada’s Pagan and Witchcraft communities joined the thousands of citizens who quickly reacted to the news, by participating in vigils and other actions to demonstrate solidarity and support with the Muslim community in Quebec City, and also across the country.

Canadian flag at half-mast for the fallen as people walk to vigil at Manitoba Legislature, in Winnipeg [Photo by D.G McKay]

For storyteller and Solstice Dispatch Service organizer, JD “Hobbes” Hickey, the shooting hit very close to home. Although he now lives in Montreal, Hickey grew up in Quebec City, in the very same neighbourhood where the mosque is located. This connection propelled him to a vigil that occurred on Monday night in Place de la Gare-Jean-Talon park, along with an estimated 3000 other mourners.

“I have not attended many vigils of this kind, but I felt a strong need to attend this one. I needed to be surrounded by others who were equally saddened and outraged by this tragedy, but I also wanted to make a statement of solidarity. I wanted to walk in community and exercise my values as a Quebecois and a Canadian,” said Hickey.

Mourners crowd a metro station in Montreal on their way to a vigil [Photo by JD”Hobbes” Hickey]

Also attending a Montreal event was Witch and activist Ryan Sauve, who attended as Sister Sissy, along with other members of the Montreal chapter of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. For Sauve, attending the vigil was a profound show of solidarity.

“As a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, I have made vows to make myself available for the physical, emotional, and spiritual support of all marginalized people. Attending the vigil allowed me to have some time, face-to-face, with the community, but also showed solidarity between the queer community and the Muslim community. The Sisters in Montreal have several members who are people of colour as well, and so we know that showing up in solidarity with PoC and immigrants is important.”

Montreal members of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence aattend vigil [Photo by Ramy Ayari]

On Monday afternoon in Ottawa, people gathered to form a human chain around the U.S. Embassy in protest of the executive order banning the entry of individuals from certain Muslim majority countries. Drawn to this event was Sarah Wibberley a pagan activist and the owner of Pathwalks Avalon School. The event went smoothly.

“There were around 2,000 people at the height of the protest,” she reported. “People were respectful and passionate with a sense of camaraderie: someone brought coffee and Timbits to share, people handed on their signs when they had to go, and despite the freezing cold everyone was friendly, including the police and Embassy security.”

This action gave Wibberley an opportunity to heal and be healed. She explained, “As someone who is also a member of an often marginalized group I feel it is vital to stand together against tyranny and in support of peaceful diversity.

“Especially as a member of a few marginalized communities (queer, pagan, disabled), I feel strongly that the more diversity people are exposed to, the more they can relate to difference without feeling threatened. As I am extremely privileged to be able to be out without threat of violence, I feel it is my obligation to stand up for those who can’t.”

Candles and a smudge bowl at the vigil in Winnipeg [Photo by D.G McKay]

L.S. Alabaster, a Wiccan and Priestess of Epona, took her show of support onto social media. She launched a campaign encouraging people change their Facebook status to say ““Today I am a Muslim.”

“I changed my faith identity for one day to show solidarity with a faith group that is under duress and suffering heinous prejudice.” said Alabaster. “It may range from dismissal, ostracism, to pity, to outright negative terrorism against their group. Pagans, of all faith groups, should understand considering our history.”

Some Pagans have chosen to reach out to Muslim community members in a more direct, personal way. Maryanne Pearce, Co-Owner of Raven’s Knoll Campground and Co-Director of Kaleidoscope Gathering decided to use random acts of kindness as her show of support for her Muslim neighbours and also strangers.

While grocery shopping, Pearce spotted a young Muslim mother and children in the store, so she purchased a bouquet of tulips.  As she says, “I went up to the young woman and handed her the wrapped flowers. I told her that the attack was so horrible and I wanted her to know that my family were mourning with them, and that Muslims were our neighbours and welcome and important.”

“[The mother] got teary. I think we were both kind of shocked and embarrassed, but emotional,” Pearce went on to say. “She opened her arms, and we hugged, and she kissed my cheeks. We separated. When she had checked out, she came back to my aisle and thanked me again, and again kissed my cheeks.”

Pearce also delivered a live plant to a local mosque and to her neighbours across the street. “I went over but only Grandmother was there. I saw her hesitating – not sure if she should open the door. I handed her the bouquet and she put her hand to her mouth. ‘Why?’ I explained again. She explained (in really excellent English!) that she didn’t understand 100% and her daughter might come over to talk to me. But she thanked me. A few hours later, the doorbell rang. It was the mom and oldest daughter. They gave us a cake!”

Thank you cake [Photo Courtesy Maryanne Pearce]

Currently still in circulation in the Pagan community is the Canadian Pagan Declaration in Intolerance (CPDI), a document launched on December 10, 2016. As explained by the organizers, it was created in response to a social climate that seems to be harboring a growing overt racism and intolerance since the election U.S. president Donald Trump.

This initiative was spearheaded by Jade Pichette, an activist and member of the Heathen community. Pichette views the mosque shooting as a call to action, and is moved to do what she can to support those affected “I don’t see Canadian Pagans taking the lead on the protests or vigils, but I don’t know that we should be. In these situations we need to listen to what our Muslim community members are saying they need, and letting them know we are there.” she explained.

The Declaration has been signed by 96 organizations and 583 individuals so far.  Pichette sees it as a starting point for signatories to move forward from, creating a more inclusive national community for all.

“The CPDI can really be the next step in concrete action. When many people signed the CPDI in December they started to have discussions about how to actually stay true to working in solidarity with marginalized faith communities, including the Muslim community,” Pichette said. “I have also noticed a new wave of organizations considering the importance of signing the CPDI to say, that this hatred is not what we stand for, accept or tolerate and that we are stronger together.”

There are more events being planned for the near future across Canada. Some of them are vigils of remembrance, some are protesting intoleranceand Islamaphobia. In many cities, mosques are holding special prayer services and encouraging everyone in the community to attend. On Saturday, February 4 a March for Human Rights is planned for Winnipeg and a contingent of WinniPagans will be present.

In Gatineau, Quebec a solidarity rally is being held at CEGEP Heritage College, where Pagan author Dr. Brendan Myers works as a professor of philosophy. Myers said, “I certainly will attend my college’s event, and I am glad to do so. I think it is important for people in positions of small authority, like my position as a college prof, to show that authority can be exercised with compassion and respect, and that hate will not be allowed in my classroom.”

Canadians are stereotyped as being polite and understated. The violent and tragic shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec shines a light on the dark side of the country that many Canadians have a difficult time facing up to.

Hickey broached this hard reality, saying: “This attack reminds us that violent, oppressive bigotry comes not only from the loud, but also from the quiet. In our attempts to sustain a fair an open society, too often we write-off oppressive attitudes and rhetoric as freedom of speech, simple opinion, or the machinations of the unstable and insignificant. Rather, that shit needs to be called out and challenged at every turn, reaffirming our Canadian values of peace, inclusion, and respect for humanity.”

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