Victim testimony during sentencing arguments for Alexandre Bissonnette, the Quebec City mosque shooter, has turned to the bigger question of how immigrants are treated in Quebec society.
Bissonnette pleaded guilty in March and was convicted of six counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder. He faces 150 years in prison.
This week, members of Quebec City’s Muslim community connected with the shooting on Jan. 29, 2017, told the judge they have experienced discrimination, even though newcomers to Quebec are almost always educated and qualified to start working here.
The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that for the first time in 2017, a higher percentage of the immigrant population in Quebec was employed compared to Quebecers born here (62 versus 61 percent).
“We now have to not start, but continue to explain, who we are,” said Boufeldja Benabdallah, a Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre spokesperson.
Some victims used their time to speak in court to fight stereotypes about their culture and religion. Thursday, Benabdallah told the judge Muslims in Quebec are neither violent nor radicalized.
“We are Quebec and Canadian citizens; why do I have to explain what happened in Irak and Iran?” he said.
In court, Benabdallah said the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre was a place of security and community, but the shooting shattered that. A year later, attendance is down one third what it was before.
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Reading from a letter written directly to the shooter himself, Benabdallah told Bissonnette:
“I want you to know that you have killed the precious moments of friendship and fraternity.
“And these children who ran and laughed carefree. They saw adults fall from the gunfire, their bodies full of bullets — how are they ever going to forget that?”
Benabdallah said that some Muslim families he knows have even decided to move to Ontario following the attack.
The court also heard that it’s not only the 36 men and 4 children who survived the shooting that night who are suffering from mental trauma.
Some Muslims who were not in the mosque that night also testified that they have symptoms of PTSD.
Youssef Kaddo told the judge he still has trouble sleeping and concentrating on menial tasks — so much so that he is unable to work. He said he is constantly afraid for his personal safety.
In another emotionally-charged testimony, Ahmed Cheddadi cried and raised his voice as he told the court:
“I will never forget how this individual in cold blood shot at everybody. I will never forget the sight of blood.”
He continued that his son does not want him to go to the mosque anymore: “He says, ‘Papa, the mosque is dangerous at night and we still need you!’”