By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It was a loving response to a hateful act as over 200 people came out in Oshawa to take part in a vigil to honour six people who were shot dead in a mosque in Quebec City.
Strong winds and blowing snow were not enough to deter the crowd that gathered first outside of city hall for a moment of silence and listen to the names of the six dead following the terrible events on Jan. 29, as they were read out into the night by event organizer Derek Giberson.
Following that, the crowd walked to the Islamic Centre of Oshawa and filled its mosque for a prayer service in remembrance of those lost.
The service was led by Shakir Pandor, the centre’s imam, who had strong words for the islamophobia that exists today and urged everyone to stop, what he sees, as a form of racism.
“There are people, families, children, Canadian citizens in our country, who are afraid to walk our streets, afraid of discrimination, bigotry and even physical violence, and it’s happened, it’s happened in this city and it has happened even to myself, and we can’t ignore the fact that it may happen again,” he said.
Pandor said it was an amazing thing to see so many people inside the mosque and so many people coming out to show their support for the Muslim community.
“I urge all of us that we take a stand against bigotry, against racism in all of its forms, and against islamophobia, and we don’t let this momentum that has started disappear.”
Along with the hundreds of residents, the vigil and open prayer was also attended by MPP Jennifer French, Mayor John Henry and several city councillors.
“This is a time when we need to be focusing on our strengths in our diversity and acceptance and understanding of each other,” French said outside of city hall. “We’re families, we’re neighbours, we’re community members and we need to be coming together.”
French said the news out of Quebec was “gut-wrenching” and not something you expect to see in Canada.
“This is not who we are as Canadians, that violence against our communities, our neighbours and our Muslim friends and neighbours, that’s not who we are, that’s not what we accept.”
The same message was shared by Henry, who took the podium inside the mosque.
“This is Canada. This is where people from around the world come to live the dream of what we have. To live in a country where you can worship freely, speak freely, honour your traditions and your languages and your cultures, and it is the safest place in the world. A few days ago, it wasn’t.”
Henry admits that while the news makes many people angry, including himself, that energy needs to be directed elsewhere.
“It’s important we take that anger and put it toward our community here. Where we come together as a group, recognizing that each person in this city has something to offer and that each and every day we come together to make this the greatest place in Canada to live.”