Muslims at home in Quebec: Philippe Couillard on mosque shooting a year later

A march will be held Sunday in Quebec City to remember the victims of last week's deadly mosque attack, Sunday, February 5, 2017.
Azzedine Najd and Fadwa Achmaoui stand by a memorial near their mosque which was site of Sunday's deadly shooting, Tuesday, January 31, 2017 in Quebec City. Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press

It was 8 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2017, and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was at home in Saint-Felicien when he received a phone call about a shooting at a mosque in the provincial capital.

A gunman had entered the Islamic cultural centre of Quebec City during evening prayer and killed six men while injuring 19 other people, five seriously.

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“I immediately assumed there was an element there of a hate crime, or a terrorist act, given the context,” Couillard said in an interview Thursday in Shanghai, China, where he is on a trade mission.

Couillard, speaking just days before the one-year anniversary of the shooting, said he quickly understood the immensity of what had happened.

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“I realized it would be major, not just for Quebec, for Canada, but also that it would have ramifications beyond our borders,” he said.

“I absolutely needed to reassure the population.”

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He headed to Quebec City that night and held a news conference.

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“It seemed to me excessively important to send a message to all Quebecers, first to Muslim Quebecers, who are certainly still traumatized today,” he said.

“The words I chose told them they were at home here, and I think that message needs to be repeated today.”

The premier reiterated in the interview he opposes a Canadian Muslim organization’s call for the federal government to designate Jan. 29 — the anniversary of the shooting — as a national day against Islamophobia.

WATCH BELOW: Deadly shooting in Quebec City

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Couillard said the state shouldn’t pick and choose which minority groups on which to focus when it comes to discrimination.

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“I think it’s preferable to mobilize around a day or a week of action, as is often done, to tackle racism and discrimination of all kinds,” he said.

On that point, Couillard said he doesn’t believe Quebec is worse than other societies or that Quebecers are more racist than other people.

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He did say Quebecers might be more “passionate” on the identity question.

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The one-year anniversary of the shooting will be commemorated over four days, beginning Friday.

Events include a seminar, a film screening, an open house at the mosque where the tragedy occurred and a vigil Monday evening.

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