On January 29th, just after 7:50 pm, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette opened fire on Muslims praying inside a mosque in Quebec City, which killed six and injured five. The six men killed in the attacks were all fathers with strong ties to the Islamic community in Quebec City, which according to the Guardian numbers is just 6,700 in a city of over 500,000. The incident shocked Quebec City, which, on average, records about 15 gunshot related incidents a year, most of which are accidents or suicide attempts.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was quick to refer to the incident as terrorism and the Quebec provincial government’s response was to activate a counter-terrorism protocol that brings together the resources of Quebec’s largest police forces. However, Bissonnette is not being charged with terrorism, as Canadian law does consider lone wolf attacks to be terrorist attacks.
Both the Canadian PM and the White House, in official responses to the event, used the word ‘senseless,’ thereby suggesting that the attack was without cause. However, the Muslim community in Quebec City has raised several concerns over rising Islamophobic incidents. For example, last summer a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of the very mosque that Bissonnette attacked.
Though there is little reporting on it, Canada has growing problems with extreme right-wing elements. In the days after the attack, CBC’s David Gutnik interviewed Maxime Fiset, a former Neo-Zazi, who now works on de-radicalization. Fiset was only surprised at the timing of the attack, stating that “I thought we had more time.”
Fiset’s concerns are reflected at a macro level. Between 2012-2014, overall hate crimes fell in Canada, while those against Muslims more than doubled. In a paper from 2016, criminologist Richard Parent and terrorism scholar James Ellis warned that Canada was ignoring the threat of lone-wolf, right-wing terrorists. In the days after the attack, reports of hate crimes in Quebec City rose, culminating in the arrest of a 47-year-old man for making online threats against Quebec’s Muslim community.
The far-right has become emboldened across the western world. America has seen the rise of the alt-right. Meanwhile, in Europe right-wing xenophobic parties are on the rise, for example, France’s Marie Le Pen and Holland’s Geert Wilders are both expected to win big at the next elections their countries hold, rising in tandem with the extreme right. The attack on Quebec City’s mosque shows that Canada must be ready to deal with its own version of right-wing extremism.
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