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Quebec ignored Muslim fears for safety: community members

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WATCH ABOVE: The Quebec Liberals are facing tough questions about what the government could or should have done to prevent a crime like the Quebec City mosque shooting. As Global's Raquel Fletcher reports, Muslim community members said they sounded the alarm last year – Feb 2, 2017

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and five cabinet ministers, including those in charge of immigration and public security, traveled to Montreal Thursday for the funeral of three of the six victims killed in Sunday’s Quebec City mosque shooting.

Earlier Thursday morning, the politicians attended a pre-sessional caucus meeting, where they had to answer some tough questions about whether the government could have done more to prevent hate crimes.

READ MORE: Thousands attend Montreal funeral for 3 of Quebec City mosque shooting victims

Eight members of the Muslim community in Quebec said they reached out to express their concerns about rising Islamophobia in the province.

In a letter dated Sept. 12, 2016, they spoke about acts of hatred committed against Islamic centres in Saguenay, Montreal, Quebec, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Sherbrooke.

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They wrote that women who wear the hijab are especially targets of assault and harassment.

READ MORE: Canadian CEO offers to cover funeral costs for Quebec City mosque shooting victims

The letter goes on to mention the rise of Islamaphobic groups online and the fact that the Muslim community feared police were poorly equipped to deal with online harassment and threats.

They outlined five recommendations for the Couillard government to consider, but argue the Liberals didn’t act on any of them.

READ MORE: Quebec City mosque left with blood stains, bullet holes after deadly shooting

“We didn’t talk about specific threats to places of worship for example, but yes, police forces are taking this very seriously,” said public security minister Martin Coiteux.

“They’ve always been taking this very seriously. When there were instances of hatred towards places of worship, Muslim places of worship in the past, we’ve investigated.”

Coiteux said as a result of the attack, the police are doing more surveillance of online hate speech, which resulted in one arrest in Montreal on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Alexandre Bissonnette allegedly visited Quebec City mosque days before shooting: source

“Whenever there was a threat, whenever there was an incident of hatred, there was an investigation,” Coiteux said.

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Even so, not all the investigations resulted in charges.

WATCH: Remembering the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting

Last summer, a pig’s head was delivered to the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Sainte-Foy, where the shooting took place.

The culprits were never found.

READ MORE: Hate crimes spike in Montreal after Quebec City mosque shooting

The premier defended his government Thursday morning.

“Not only have we been active, we’ve been internationally recognized as being active for prevention of radicalization, police action and collaboration with other countries and I think it’s a fact,” said Couillard.

However, the justice minister was clearly frustrated that her hate speech bill, abandoned last May, was never made law.

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READ MORE: Canadian leaders express outrage and shock at Quebec mosque attack

Opposition parties argued the bill went too far in limiting freedom of speech.

“I was criticized for it and I did speak about the effect of some right-wing speeches because we had some demonstration before and it is troubling,” said minister Stéphanie Vallée.

READ MORE: Anti-Muslim incidents in Quebec: a timeline

Vallée said she will go ahead with her religious neutrality legislation, Bill 62, which has created a lot of debate about whether public employees in authority positions, such as teachers, should be allowed to wear religious symbols.

The rhetoric has often specifically targeted Muslim women and Vallée said she hopes the debate going forward will be more respectful.

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