Hate crimes and right-wing resurgence go hand in hand. The torching of the car last month belonging to Mohamed Labidi, president of the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, which includes a mosque, in the Ste. Foy neighbourhood of Quebec City, is no isolated incident.
It happened at 1:30 a.m. and the car was parked in front of his house! This incident must serve as a warning to all and must be opposed using all available resources.
It would appear, however, that in Quebec City and elsewhere in the province, the extent of the problem is not getting the attention it deserves. First, the police hesitated to label it a hate crime. We wonder why, in the aftermath of the mass shooting in January at the mosque, in the middle-class Sainte Foy neighbourhood, in which six people were killed, and 19 injured, Quebec City police did not vastly increase its surveillance and protection of obvious potential targets such as Labidi and his family. The suspect in the shooting, Alexandre Bissonnette, made things easy for police because, obviously troubled, he called 911 himself, only to be arrested and charged with six counts of murder.
To police, that mass-murder incident may have looked like case closed, but developments before and after have shown that there is a serious problem in this city that has always been suspicious of outsiders and those who are not like the vast majority. In June of last year, a pig’s head was left at the centre’s door.
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Not coincidentally, the Labidi car was torched some 36 hours after it was announced that the mosque had struck a deal with Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume to build a cemetery. This followed years of frustration, including the defeat in nearby Saint-Appolinaire in a 19 to 16 referendum vote opposing the establishment there of the Quebec City’s first Muslim cemetery. In July, in Saint-Honoré, the words Saguenay White City in French appeared at the entrance to a cemetery that offers Muslim burials. And in Sherbrooke, the so-called Fédération des Québécois de Souche distributed stickers reading “Minorities on our land: Never!”
In addition, there has been a backlash against the sudden influx of some 5,000 asylum seekers who have crossed the border illegally at St-Bernard de Lacolle to avoid the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. and become eligible for a hearing on a refugee claim in Canada. Most are Haitians who fear the imminent cancellation in the U.S. of the Temporary Protected Status they received in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake there, meaning they could face deportation to Haiti. They deserve compassion and a fair hearing, but trash radio commentators in Quebec and right-wing activists are seeking to smother compassion and fair play for these beleaguered people.
We have to wonder if in that climate, including the demonstration last month in Quebec City by the right-wing group called La Meute, police are making full use of their powers to monitor and infiltrate groups that propagate hate. Quebec’s Muslim community finally decided it had to go public although Labidi was not giving interviews. Full disclosure and publicity are the best ways of alerting the public to threats to public safety and enlisting support. Police in mid-September made two arrests.
We urge police to take visible steps to provide maximum security and protection to Muslim communities in Quebec, with full and visible support from political and civic leaders. The Muslim community is expanding. They are part of the fabric of our society, and as they contribute to our growth and development, they deserve to feel safe and welcome.