Despite the frigid cold, an estimated 250 people gathered at City Hall Park on Wednesday for a candlelight vigil, held to show solidarity with Red Deer’s Muslim community after Sunday night’s mosque shooting in Sainte-Foy, Quebec killed six men and wounded 19.
Red Deer’s Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Network organized the event, featuring various speakers including Mayor Tara Veer, MLA Kim Schreiner and Bashir Hareed, an Imam from the Red Deer Islamic Centre.
The names of the dead were read out by Nazim Manji, past WIC co-chair and member of the Ismaili Muslim community. They included Azzedine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Barry, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane.
Andrea Lacoursiere is the co-chair of WIC, along with Pam Taylor. She wanted local Muslims to see that Red Deer is an inclusive place.
“I would like to let them know that Red Deer is a community that values all of its citizens and they always have a place in the fabric of our community and it’s only strengthened by diversity, which includes people of all faiths,” said Lacoursiere.
Hareed was touched by the community support and those who dropped off flowers at the Islamic Centre following the shooting. He said there are plans to hold open houses for the public to learn about their faith.
“The more we discuss our differences and talk about it, the more we come together. I am optimistic we will (overcome) our differences by talking and engaging with one another,” Hareed said.
Lacoursiere recalled watching the news unfold at home, shocked an attack like this one could happen here. She always thought Canada prided itself on values such as openness and diversity.
“Not everything is perfect here. Not everything is as we want it to be — Canada as the friendly, maple leaf flag-waving, Tim Hortons-drinking image that we want to project,” she said.
“We have our problems and this is the best way to recognize that we have them and to show solidarity with the Islamic community.”
Qabas Alsammarraie, an educational assistant with Red Deer Public Schools, was one of those who lingered around after the vigil concluded. He’s originally from Iraq and later fled to Syria before arriving in Canada as a refugee. He’s lived in Red Deer for six years.
“This is a normal life where you feel safe. You can go to work, you can do whatever you want, you feel safe,” said Alsammarraie. “That’s what we expected and that’s what we wanted. It’s pretty awesome.”
He said the Quebec attack makes him feel less safe, recognizing that as a Muslim male, some people might view him as a threat.
Alsammarraie attended the vigil to send a message of unity.
“It’s to show support for my fellow Muslims and also to tell all Canadians we stand as a unit,” he said. “We cannot be divided. We’re strong in our diversity.”
WIC was formed after the City signed onto the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination a few years ago. It is a collection of people from local agencies who want to hold the City to its commitment to create a community free of discrimination.