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Quebec opposition parties balk at making mosque shooting anniversary a day of awareness

Police attend the scene near a Quebec City mosque on Monday, January 30, 2017. A mass shooting left six people dead and another 19 wounded at the mosque.
Police attend the scene near a Quebec City mosque on Monday, January 30, 2017. A mass shooting left six people dead and another 19 wounded at the mosque. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

The head of an influential Muslim group said he’s disappointed Quebec’s main opposition parties do not support a call by his organization to make the anniversary of Quebec City’s deadly mosque shooting a day of action on Islamophobia.

READ MORE: Muslim group asks for day of remembrance on 1st anniversary of Quebec mosque shooting

Last Friday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking for the Jan. 29 anniversary of the mass shooting one year ago to become a national day of remembrance and action on Islamophobia.

Six Muslim men were shot and killed and 19 others were wounded in an attack on the mosque during prayers last Jan. 29.

Alexandre Bissonnette is to stand trial in March on six charges of first-degree murder and six of attempted murder.

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But this week, the province’s two main opposition parties made it clear that, while they support a commemoration, they believe Islamophobia is a loaded term.

READ MORE: Lawyers for Quebec City mosque shooting suspect oppose release of warrants

TheParti Québécois (PQ) says the term is too controversial, while the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) deems the word inappropriate because Quebecers “are not Islamophobic.”

Ihsaan Gardee, director of the Muslim council, attributed the parties’ position to identity politics in an election year in Quebec.

“In our view, when arguing semantics, it draws attention away from the core issues of hate and Islamophobia and anti-Muslim discrimination that are being discussed and how to effectively address them,” Gardee said Tuesday.

READ MORE: Alexandre Bissonnette charged with 6 counts of 1st degree murder

While still waiting for a decision from Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, Gardee said such a designation would help enhance public education about hate, bigotry and Islamophobia and that a day of remembrance is supported by dozens of other Canadian Muslim groups and community partners.

He said the term Islamophobia is understood as the rational fear and hatred of Muslims.

WATCH BELOW: Deadly shooting in Quebec City

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“Fear and hatred, if left unchecked, is certainly capable of leading to discrimination and violence, which we saw culminate on Jan. 29 of last year when six innocent Muslim men were killed in their place of worship,” Gardee said.

A PQ spokesman said in a statement the party believes the tragedy should be remembered every year, but notes the term Islamophobia is already a controversial term, while the Coalition says the day should honour the victims of the shooting.

READ MORE: Quebecers write touching messages to families of victims of mosque shooting

“The attack at the Quebec City mosque is a serious tragedy that has struck all of Quebec,” said Bruno-Pierre Cyr, a spokesman for Leader Jean-Francois Lisee.

“We are obviously open to it being commemorated every year.”

But the PQ says it doesn’t like using the word ‘Islamophobia,’ which, it says, is the subject of permanent controversy.

The party prefers the expression ‘anti-Muslim sentiment’.

The party notes there is already a world day against racial discrimination and that Quebec’s Human Rights Commission could mark it this year by making the Muslim community the focal point.

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

Coalition spokesman Samuel Poulin said the party doesn’t intend to support the Muslim council’s request.

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“We believe that January 29th should be dedicated to commemorating the memory of the victims of this terrible tragedy,” Poulin wrote.

“This is the intolerable act of a single person and not that of an entire society. Quebecers are open and welcoming. They are not Islamophobic.”