As news of a shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec in Quebec City’s Ste-Foy neighbourhood started to emerge on social media, Maya Roy had a sinking feeling in her stomach. It was late Sunday night, and Roy, who grew up in Quebec, had been coordinating an online effort to assist those seeking information on the legalities of US President Donald Trump’s executive order that is being informally referred to as the “Muslim ban”.
“My sister’s friend, she was coming back from her PhD research in Iran, and was detained at JFK airport” in New York, said Roy, 36, who is the executive director of Newcomer Women’s Services in Toronto. “We had been focussed on getting information out on Twitter, when news of Quebec came through. My stomach just fell. It feels like the beginning of something greater. I think it’s a move towards a complete denial of human rights. There’s been a general move in that direction since 9/11, but the suspension of human rights and civil liberties – this is new.”
Ever since Trump has taken over as the new US president, and started signing executive orders ranging from reinstating a ban on international abortion counselling, approving two oil pipelines and ordering the construction of a wall along the Mexican border, there has been a general sense of anxiety among Canadians, including those of South Asian origin and especially recent immigrants.
The news of a shooting at a Quebec mosque, which left six people dead and five injured, and was quickly characterised as a terrorist attack by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, left Shazia Javed reeling with emotion. Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, a resident of the Quebec City suburb of Cap-Rouge, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.
‘A heavy blow’
“Honestly, after everything that went on over the weekend, this seemed like a very heavy blow,” said Javed, a filmmaker based in Mississauga, who learnt of the Quebec shooting over Facebook. “This is much closer to home, and the prospect of people being killed by gunfire while they are in a mosque in Canada is very daunting. How do we deal with this? Where do we get the strength to deal with this? It had taken a lot of strength to stay optimistic and show support to those reeling under Trump’s Muslim ban.”
Canadians are quickly realising how closely they are tied to the news coming from south of the border, says Nidhi Sachdeva Ahmed, a language instructor and entrepreneur in Toronto.
“I was just talking to my mother-in-law yesterday, saying we are safe in Canada, and then we woke up to the news from Quebec,” said Sachdeva Ahmed, 34, who is married to a Pakistani-Canadian. She’s reconsidering her future plans to travel to America. “My brother is studying in Texas,” she said. “I am worried to visit him now. This has nothing to do with being Hindu or Muslim. This has to do with being a person of colour.”
She added: “The rhetoric coming from the States has made it OK for people to be racist, for people to discriminate. When the leader of a country can prioritise one religion over another, his bizarre message is trickling down…It’s sad and scary. Every time you put on the news, or go to the computer, I have not read anything positive. It’s forcing people to react so much. There’s action and reaction, and it’s all full of hate.”
Protests and vigils have become ways for many people to voice their frustrations and sympathies. A lawyer by training, Archana Sridhar showed up at a protest outside the US Consulate in Toronto, despite the below freezing temperatures. Sridhar, who identifies as a proud Indian-American, moved to Canada in 2009, when her husband was offered a job in Toronto. There’s a clear connection between the Quebec shooting and what’s happening in the States right now, she says.
“I feel like I wish I was in the USA,” said Sridhar. “My father was a permanent resident in the US for almost 30 years. He loved India and couldn’t let go of his citizenship, but he built a life in the States for me and my mom, a career in computers, a lifelong love of unions that took care of him when he was a newcomer. The idea that he could have been detained and kept from us, his home, his job and friends – like those in [American] airports right now – is horrifying.”
While Neha Thanki, who works for a software firm, isn’t sure “whether the US refugee ban embolden[ed] the Quebec City terrorist to cause immeasurable pain to entire lives and generations”, it has made her resolve to do more stronger. “In the past year, as the refugee crisis grew, I began contributing to refugee sponsorships. In light of what has happened in the US and the fact that many refugees to Canada are Muslim, Black or [People Of Colour], I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I can help make this country less hostile towards them,” she said.
She added: “I’m working on gathering a list of organisations that work to protect refugees, Muslims, Black and people of colour, people in their local communities by educating those who are not from these groups, and by loudly championing those who are. I want to donate my time and money every month to them and encourage others to do the same. I hope to make this list publicly available and collaborative. I am also going to hold my government accountable for their promises as well as for their inaction by reaching out to my MP every chance I get.”