By RYAN THORPE
A stranger walked into the Sainte-Foy Islamic Cultural Centre, in Quebec City, carrying a gun.
It was just before 8 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 29.
Moments later, 17 children were left fatherless.
Six men, some shot in the back, died. According to a witness, Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, lost his life confronting the shooter.
Five people remain in hospital, two in critical condition. Thirteen others sustained minor injuries. The victims had been attending evening prayer.
Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, has been charged with 11 counts of murder and attempted murder. He may still face terrorism charges.
It was this tragedy that led the community of St. Catharines to hold a vigil on Tuesday, Jan. 31, joining those across the country who have rallied in solidarity with the Canadian Muslim population.
Hundreds of people came to City Hall, later marching to the Islamic Society of St. Catharines Mosque, holding candles and placards as they walked through the snow covered streets.
“It was a brutal act of terrorism intended to divide our community, to sow the seed of doubt in our minds,” said St. Catharines Liberal MP Chris Bittle, who flew from Ottawa to attend the event.
“It was intended to make the Muslim community feel as if they’re not welcome.
“That’s something we have to stand up against and that’s what this vigil is showing. We’re walking shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We’re showing them that hate has no place in Niagara.”
The crowd rallied to City Hall at 5:30 p.m., where politicians and community leaders addressed those in attendance. Politicians who spoke include Bittle, Mayor of St. Catharines Walter Sendzik and St. Catharines Liberal MPP Jim Bradley.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to rally in defense of those who are under attack,” Bradley told the crowd.
“From the north to the far west and east, and right across this country… people of all faiths, people of all ethnic backgrounds, people of all races, people of all political views are gathering in front of city halls and eventually at the mosques, to show our solidarity with you for this dastardly crime that was committed.”
By 6:30 p.m. the march had reached the mosque, where leaders of the local Muslim community took turns speaking to, and praying with, the crowd.
As the vigil came to a close, a man stepped forward and led the crowd in the singing of We Shall Overcome, as candles burned down in the hands of those huddled together in the cold.
The mosque attacked in Quebec City has been subject to hate crimes in the past.
In June 2016, a severed pig’s head was gift wrapped and left on its doorstep, accompanied with a note reading “bon appetite.” A pamphlet had also previously been circulated in the neighbourhood, alleging the mosque had ties to terrorism.
Bissonnette is a student at Laval University and at the time of the shooting was employed by Hema-Quebec, a non-profit organization which manages the Quebec blood supply.
His Facebook page, which has been taken down, indicated he is from the Quebec City suburb of Cap-Rouge.
According to Quebec City police, following the attack, Bissonnette called 911 and indicated he wished to cooperate in the investigation. He was arrested five kilometers away from the scene of the crime, armed and waiting for police in his vehicle.
Two individuals, Bissonnette and Mohammed Belkhadir, were originally arrested in relation to the attack.
Belkhadir has been cleared as a suspect and is now being treated as a witness. He was reportedly outside the mosque shoveling snow when the gunshots rang out. When they stopped, he entered the building and called 911.
Bissonnette appeared in court Monday evening. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 21.
Those killed in the attack are:
Khaled Belkacemi, 60, father of three.
Ibrahima Barry, 39, father of four.
Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, father of three.
Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, father of three.
Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, father of two.
Aboubaker Thabti, 44, father of two.