QUEBEC — In a world often hostile to migration, Canada has stood out, welcoming thousands of refugees fleeing war and seeking a haven. It has been a feel-good time for Canada, proud of its national tolerance.
On Sunday, that was upended when a man walked into a mosque and started shooting, killing six people and wounding eight. The man accused of being the gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, was charged with six counts of murder on Monday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it an act of terrorism, and there was a collective outpouring of remorse and empathy. But the attack also forced Canadians to confront a growing intolerance and extremism that has taken root particularly among some people in this French-speaking corner of the country.
“Certainly Islamophobia has been increasing for some time,” Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said by telephone from Montreal.
But he said the attack was nonetheless shocking. “It is overwhelming, unthinkable,” he said.
A Muslim woman in Quebec has been kicked out of a language course for the second time because of her refusal to remove a religiously-understood face covering. The Egyptian immigrant made headlines when it was revealed provincial Immigration Department officials expelled her from a government-sponsored French class several months ago after she refused to take off her niqab. Known only as Naema in Quebec media, she had since enrolled in another government-sponsored French class, this time at a community centre for immigrants in Montreal.
But almost as soon as the Quebec government got word she was attending class in her niqab, it confronted her again, forcing her to make the same decision she made in November 2009. “It is a copy and paste of what happened last week,” said Samer Majzoub, who heads the Canadian Muslim Forum, a non-profit organization that has been providing support for Naema.
Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James appeared to move quickly in addressing the latest contribution to the province’s ongoing debate over the accommodation of religious and ethnic minorities. Some commentators have argued Naema had been unreasonable in her demands, which reportedly included giving oral presentations with her back facing the co-ed class. She had been enrolled in the part-time course for around 45 days and had yet to hear of any complaints from her teachers, Majzoub said.
Her expulsion from the college French course in November is the subject of a complaint the woman filed with the Quebec human rights commission.