Monday evening a man with a gun walked into a Québec City mosque and began shooting those who were there to worship. Within an hour, two university students were in custody, Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohammed Belkhadir. Before long, the police announced that only Mr. Bissonnette was a suspect, Mr. Belkhadir was a witness; he was released after several hours. Mr. Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of murder. Two more victims remain in critical condition in hospital. All were shot in the back.
Mr Bissonnette did not belong to an extremist group. He had voiced some critical views about Muslims and others, but nothing that would have sent any warning signals about his intentions to proceed to such drastic actions. He is not a symptom of something terribly wrong in Québec society or Canadian society. I don’t know what can be done to stop persons acting alone who feel that they have received an illumination revealing that they can make the world a better place by going out and killing a few people.
Mr. Belkhadir spoke to the media after he was released and explained why he had been arrested. He had been leaving the mosque when he heard gunshots and went back inside. He had been providing first aid to one of the injured when he saw a gun pointing at him, thought it was the gunman, tried to get away and was quickly apprehended by the police. He said that he fully understands that running away made him appear suspect, but that the police had treated him well and he had no ill-will toward them.
The gun pointing at him was in the hand of a police officer, not the gunman. I am thankful to live in a country where police officers are not trigger-happy. The gun was not fired, Mr Belkhadir is alive and unharmed.
Government leaders and politicians across the country said all the right things about feeling sorrow that such a thing could happen and feeling compassion for the victims and all those affected by the shooting.
Perhaps Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec said it the best: “Spoken words matter. Written words matter.” He was not advocating censorship, but urging us to be careful to get the facts straight and to use words of kindness to others. He finished by saying: “We are all Québecois. Once we say this, then we talk to each other. Next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?”
We have been tested by the hatred shown by one young man. The reaction from across the country has given me an assurance that the great majority of Canadians are people of compassion, not hatred.