Every year since 2017, a collective I am part of organizes a vigil to commemorate the victims of the shooting at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City. Every year we discuss which message we want to stick with when we speak to journalists. We know we have no control over these messages, but we try anyway. This year we decided to highlight the experiences of Muslim youth in Quebec City: their hopes, fears and dreams. We wanted you to share what it was like growing up in this city, especially since filming. What we didn't expect was that the federal and provincial governments of Quebec would use this event to pit high-level politicians against each other.
On January 26th, the morning of our press conference, Prime Minister Justin TrudeauAnnouncedthat Amira Elghawaby would be Canada's first special envoy to counter Islamophobia. The timing was perfect for the party: they have declared January 29 as Anti-Islamophobia Day and have now listed an ideal candidate for the new position. Trudeau, flanked by federal cabinet ministers, attended the vigil, as did Elghawaby. Meanwhile, this year marked the first time that Quebec's prime minister failed to appear. The event took place in the area where the shooting took place, further emphasizing the absence of François Legault, Prime Minister and leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).
Over the years, speakers' messages at this event have focused on frustrations about the way the Legault government has been interacting with Quebec's Muslims. In this respect, it was not surprising that the messages sent by the speakers repeatedly referred to CAQ failures, contrary to our intended approach.
Ahmed Cheddadi, a survivor of the attack and a friend of mine, spoke at the press conference that took place before the vigil. She cried as she spoke about her 15-year-old daughter's dream of being a teacher when she grows up. But because she plans to wear a hijab, Cheddadi fears she won't be able to enforce it in the province. Imagine this: first you survived a shooting where you were targeted because of your religion and now your heart is broken because your daughter's religion could prevent you from achieving your dreams. "You can always move to Ontario," he told her. Hardly comforting.
Bill 21 has repeatedly appeared in speeches as the clearest example of how the CAQ has failed Quebec Muslims by fanning the fires of Islamophobia in a province where many people still do not know a Muslim. There are other examples of CAQ errors like Legaultclaims, just days after he said at the 2018 vigil that Islamophobia does not exist in Quebec. and your governmentattackFor taxi drivers, it also affected those who visit the mosque, which has a parking lot that is often full of taxis.
The Quebec City massacre is symptomatic of a deeper rot
There were no public policies, no new support or intervention, and no initiatives to address the increasing radicalization of white men.
The articles were in place for Monday morning's news cycle, which covered how, six years after the shooting, the community is frustrated that the CAQ has made matters worse in the province by fueling Islamophobia. What happened instead was that my feed was full of news about a CAQ announcement: Minister Jean-François Roberge hadcalledurged Elghawaby to resign and urged the government to remove her immediately if she failed to do so. While I can't know if there was a connection between the expected news cycle and the announcement, I do know how crisis communication works.
Elghawaby's supposed sin? These lines that she wrote down in aeditorialfor the Citizen of Ottawa in 2019: “Unfortunately, most Quebecers seem to be influenced not by the rule of law but by anti-Muslim sentiment. A poll conducted earlier this year by Léger Marketing found that 88% of Quebecers who had negative views of Islam supported the ban. "It's mostly driven by the hijabs, and the other religious symbols are collateral damage," Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, told the Montreal Gazette.
Elghawaby, who is a friend of mine, is now at the center of a media swarm in Quebec that is portraying the situation almost everywhere in the same way as the CAQ. In fact, backlash to the article began following his appointment last week, allowing the CAQ to know it could easily control the message calling for his resignation. The party tabled a motion in the National Assembly on Tuesday to do just that, andPastunanimously, with the 11 Québec solidaire MNAs abstaining.
Also that day, former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair wrote in the Montreal Gazette that Elghawaby's article was intended to disqualify her from office. A day earlier, the columnist for Le Journal de Montréal Denise BombardierHamthat Elghawaby is an "Islamist" and guilty of "Quebecophobia" without attempting to explain or justify the allegations.
Could all this thinly veiled Islamophobia really have arisen because Elghawaby pointed out that Bill 21, a law that objectively has racist implications for Muslim women, is popular in Quebec? I wonder if the real anger is that as more Muslims become normalized as part of Quebec society, the more someone like Bombardier will wither away and fall into a puddle on the floor. Because without that fear, how else would junk radio ads or junk newspapers sell subscriptions? How will these white dinosaurs from Quebec's post-René Lévesque years continue to be relevant?
While I think the CAQ would have called for the resignation of anyone appointed to that position, regardless of what they have said in the past, the fact that Elghawaby is a formidable advocate for social justice who also wears a hijab carries them to an even greater goal. . These reactions should have been expected from the PMO when making this appointment.
We in Quebec have a lot to do to combat these racist narratives and attacks, but I also wonder what Trudeau will do to protect this new position and ensure Elghawaby thrives. Because while it's one thing to demonize Elghawaby and force his resignation, it would be just as harrowing to let him dry up while his government tries to score political points against racism.
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Nora Loreto is a Quebec City-based author and activist. She is editor of the Canadian Labor Media Association.
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