Members of Quebec’s Muslim community said Wednesday they welcomed the first public statements by the parents of a man accused of shooting dead six men in a mosque last January.
Manon Marchand and Raymond Bissonnette, in a letter sent to Radio-Canada and published Wednesday, described the actions of their son, Alexandre, as “inexcusable” and “totally inexplicable.”
But the parents of the accused killer said they stood by their child.
“Alexandre is still our son whom we love and who will always be a part of our family,” they wrote in a letter released by the French-language public broadcaster. “Like all parents, we hoped to see him succeed and be happy in life.”
“In a way, we have also lost a son.”
The letter mentions a Montreal-area imam whose 2017 eulogy during the funeral service for the slain men received worldwide attention.
Bissonnette’s parents thanked Hassan Guillet, who said last year in a speech shared widely online, that the shooter was also a victim.
“Alexandre, before being a killer he was a victim himself,” Guillet told mourners in Quebec City in 2017. “Before planting his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets, in his head.”
Guillet saluted the parents’ letter, during an interview.
“I am happy they sent the letter and salute their courage,” he said.
“I was waiting for it. Not necessarily today, but the healing process is different for everyone. It was important what they did, not just for them, but for others.”
Bissonnette is facing 12 charges, including six counts of first-degree murder, and his trial is scheduled to begin on March 26.
Six men were killed in the attack: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, Khaled Belkacemi, 60, Aboubaker Thabti, 44, Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, and Ibrahima Barry, 39.
Nineteen other people were injured, five of them seriously.
On Monday, commemorative events were held in Quebec City and elsewhere to mark the one-year anniversary of the rampage at the Islamic cultural centre in that city on Jan. 29, 2017.
WATCH: Quebec City remembers
Guillet said he didn’t blame the accused’s killer’s family for the shooting because “we don’t know what influenced him.”
The imam said, however, that there are what he called, “arsonists,” who are playing with fire in Quebec society by continuously spreading hateful messages about Muslims online as well as causing acts of vandalism towards the community.
Guillet mentioned that since the shooting, “there still isn’t a healthy climate.”
Hateful speech was rampant, he said, online and in the media last summer when voters in a small town outside Quebec City rejected a proposal to build a Muslim-run cemetery.
The mosque where the shooting took place received a package that included a defaced Qur’an and a note expressing hate toward the cemetery project, Guillet said.
Shortly after, the car belonging to the president of the mosque, Mohamed Labidi, was set on fire outside his house.
“And all this happened after Bissonnette was in prison,” Guillet said.
“There are people who are propagating hate … I call them arsonists. They don’t know the consequences of what they do.”
Labidi said in an interview that he too appreciated the letter sent by the family.
“I saw how much they suffered after this tragedy,” he said. “But for us, (their suffering) can’t be an impediment to justice. And that justice needs to be done, also.”
Labidi added that all Quebecers should sympathize with the Bissonnette family.
“In Islam, it’s written clearly, each soul is responsible for their own acts. You can’t connect the family to (Bissonnette’s) actions.”
The parents told Radio-Canada in a phone interview that they visit their son every week at the detention centre in Quebec City, where Bissonnette has been since his arrest, but they don’t know if they’ll attend the trial.
Since the tragedy, the couple and the suspect’s twin brother have been receiving psychological help. They also thanked family, friends and strangers who’ve voiced their support for them.