Brantford unifies for diversity

The Muslim Student Association (MSA), the local Brantford Mosque and Laurier all joined together for a vigil in honour of the victims of the shooting in Quebec City on Feb. 1, 2017.

Six individuals were killed and 19 others were injured in a terrorist attack Jan. 29. The individuals were praying with their backs to the shooter. Around 8 p.m. the shooter took 6 lives in the Islamic Cultural Centre de Quebec City. The six victims were between the ages of 39 and 60 years old.

The suspected shooter, Alexandre Bissonette, 27, has been charged with six counts of first degree murder. The attack was called a terrorist attack by Justin Trudeau. However, Bissonette was only charged with murder and not terrorism.

The vigil began at 7:30 p.m. and ran until 9 p.m. Many showed up in attendance to show their support and solidarity with the Muslim community. The event began with the lighting of candles in the courtyard of the Research and Academic Center West of Laurier Brantford. Abu Noman Mohammed Tarek, Imam at the Brantford Mosque, spoke at the vigil and led the group in prayer.

As people made their way back inside to take their seats, Tarek spoke about the act and how he and his family reacted to the news.

“It was hard to control the tears,” said Tarek. “It was an indescribable feeling.”

Tarek went on to explain that he and his family did not suffer alone, that he had a lot of support behind him.

“But what we experienced after the news, the same night, around 9:30 or so, was an email from our local councillor, sending his words of comfort and ensuring that ‘we are with you’. That was a different experience,” said Tarek.

Many others throughout the night spoke up and showed their support. Jaydene Lavallie, an Indigenous woman who works with Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG), stated that as an Indigenous woman, she can understand what the Muslim community must be going through. There is a lot of hate in the world and fear of being different, so people must fight towards the common good.

“Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge,” said Tarek in reference to how racism and fear of differences can be overcome. “Communicate with one another [and] talk to one another. We don’t know what will happen [the] next day.”

There was also an incident in 2016 during Ramadan. The mosque received a pig’s head on the front step and it was labelled a hate crime. Most of Quebec City’s immigration population is French-speaking.

Quebec City has a very low crime rates, so it was a huge shock to the residents of the community when this attack on the mosque occurred.

The message continuing into the weekend was to spread love, not hate. The chant echoed throughout Victoria Park on Saturday as nearly 400 hundred Brantford citizens gathered around the Joseph Brant statue. The air was cold, but warmth was provided by the tone of solidarity that was set for the Brantford Friendship Walk.

JoAnne Dubois, community developer at the Grand River Community Health Centre, and her friend Sara Dover, a lawyer, planned the event last Monday after the recent shooting in a Quebec City Mosque. As well, the walk was meant to show that Brantford stands against U.S President Donald Trump’s immigration ban, which left people from seven Middle-Eastern countries with no way to get home.

“The friendship walk is a way to counter the hate with love and friendship,” said Dubois. “We felt we needed to do something. We felt compelled to make a statement.”

Dubois and Dover were unsure of what to do with the emotion and anxiety they were left with after the recent events.

“I think a lot of people felt a growing sense of anxiety about the negativity with diversity and the intense racialization of people… myself and others felt it was time to move away from the negativity and come together in a spirit of positivity and solidarity with all the amazing diversity in Brantford,” said Dover.

Members stood silent to listen to each speaker as the event began at 2 p.m. Organizer Lauren Burrows introduced Tehakanere Henny Jack, who led a First Nations prayer.

Attendees listened while Abu Noman Tarek, Iman of the Brantford Mosque; Ava Hill, Chief of the Elected Council of the Six Nations of the Grand River; Anwar Dost, president of the Muslim Association of Brantford; Mayor John Sless; Brenda Blancher, Grand Erie District School Board Director of Education; and Police Chief Geoff Nelson gave their remarks on the incredible out-pour of support.

“We are a peaceful nation and diversity is our strength,” said Tarek. “Brantford is a community, one where we share everyone’s pain and we enjoy and celebrate in everyone’s achievement.

Chief Hill expressed gratitude toward people coming together and celebrating inclusiveness, love, kindness and peace.

“It’s refreshing and heartening to know that here in our little corner of the world, that we’re standing in solidarity with many people and many groups across the world who are coming together.”

“Spread love, not hate,” continued to be chanted as attendees left the park to walk down Darling Street, where they proceeded on Clarence Street around to Laurier’s Research and Academic Centre on Dalhousie. The building was filled by the hundreds to enjoy discussion, hot chocolate, musical performances and a sense of community filled with solidarity to one another.

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