One Year Later And Quebec Still Lives In Fear: Mosque Attack And Assault Weapons

On January 29, 2017, a gunman entered the largest mosque in Quebec City with the intention of killing as many Muslims as possible. Shortly into the attack, the assault weapon jammed and those present in the mosque thought they had been saved; however, gunman Alexandre Bissonnette had been armed with two additional illegal weapons, resulting in the death of 6 innocent men. Although a year has passed, no revolutionary laws controlling firearms have been made, leaving the families of the dead dreading that their nightmares may be relived. Recently, local mosque goers in Quebec City reignited conversation on arms control, demanding more stringent laws be made.

Regular mosque attender, Boufeldja Benadballah, continues to remind Canada that guns are “a weapon of war” capable of “a carnage 10 times worse” than was seen that day in 2017, Al Jazeera reports. Ralph Goodale, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, has responded to the requests made by the survivors stating that he is “prepared to hear out their argument” and that the government is “interested in improving public safety,” a largely positive and hopeful response. Nevertheless, Al Jazeera reports that Goodale is concerned by how the proposed action would “restructure the whole system,” implying possible hurdles in passing more invasive laws. Wendy Cukier, a member of the Coalition for Gun Control, who praised the small steps being taken to improve gun safety, however, noted that “stronger measures are desperately needed,” Al Jazeera reports.

The lack of action taken by the Canadian government has appalled the survivors and Muslim communities across the country. More than a year after the incident, no changes have been made to the law regarding banning guns. Although the country has a law in place which means that Canadian residents must hold a license to buy any gun or ammunition, a process which is timely and strict, this law has stopped neither non-permit holders from buying guns or from permit-holders from harming civilians. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that in March, 2018, the Trudeau government took a step towards tightening the control of sales and licenses which would see the scope of background checks expanded. Although this action puts more safety checks in place, Heidi Rathjen, a survivor of a 1989 shooting in Montreal, highlighted the fact that the law does not include a provision which would require the registration of private firearm sales; leaving a gap for criminals to act maliciously.

In March 2018, the attacker, Bissonnette, pleaded guilty to six first-degree murder charges. The damage done that day was not limited to the lives lost but impacted the entire Muslim community in Canada, leaving them terrified that Islamophobic extremism had arrived at their doorsteps. The Muslim community in Quebec City is calling for the Canadian government to act and pass a law which would see assault weapons banned across the country; a demand which, if realized, would see a starkly different approach to gun control than seen in Canada’s neighbouring state, the United States.

Between 2013 and 2016, the government recorded a jump of 30% in firearm sales. Simultaneously, the Washington Post reports that according to Statistics Canada, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 253% between 2012 and 2015. The New York Times reports that the hearing found that Bissonnette, a 28-year-old political science student, claimed he’d developed an obsession with the far right, mass killers, Donald Trump and the Muslim community – framing the importance of not only addressing gun control and reducing threats to public security, but also addressing the growing Islamophobia developing in Canada. If the public is not educated and Islamophobia not addressed, whether or not guns are accessible by the public, the Muslim community will continue to be the target of hate crimes and the related death toll will continue to rise.

Zoe Knight