By Rana Nelson
A vigil held Sunday evening at Grizzly Plaza for the victims of the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec was short but poignant.
United Church Minister David Cooke organized the ceremony with Laura Stovel, co-chair of Revelstoke for Refugees. Cooke began the vigil with six minutes of silence – one minute for each person killed. About 25 people, bundled up for the weather, stood in a circle of quiet in the band shell, trying to protect their candle flames from the cold wind. The circle grew larger as more people arrived. “I liked that people came later,” said participant Kailee Marland. “It was as if just by us standing there in the silence, it drew people in.”
Speaking to an audience of eventually 40 people, Cooke recited the names of the slain six, then spoke a prayer in French and English. Next, he invited comments, prayers, and thoughts from “your own traditions and beliefs. Or just stand in the silence.” Stovel spoke about how one of the victims, Mamadou Tanou Barry, was supporting extended family in Guinea and his own young family in Quebec. He was also helping fund a water-well project in his home village of Labe. Miriam Williams urged the gathering to learn about the victims and their dreams and take up their causes.
Steve Busch spoke about the attacker. “There must be so much hate in him to commit an act like this. We need to pray to end this kind of hate and treat everyone with love and respect.” Jewelles Smith, who works in human rights and is presenting at the UN in March as chair for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, followed up on Busch’s comments. “I am an atheist and I’ve raised my sons to be atheists. My son was shocked that this man’s response to his beliefs was violence. I have raised my children to understand that different beliefs aren’t wrong – they’re just different.” In a conversation with Smith after the vigil, she commented that she used to work for the Jewish Family Service Agency in Vancouver. “It has been beautiful to see [through social media] the number of Jews at similar ceremonies standing in solidarity with the Muslim people.”
Bonnie Teed reminded the group that “we are all in this together. We are one people.” Others spoke of the need to “challenge the lies that ‘reality news’ can tell” and to acknowledge the West’s historical and current role in conflicts in the Middle East. After a minute or so of standing in silence, Cooke asked if anyone else would like to speak. Michelle Cole wanted to sing, and the group joined in.
When we are gone
They will remain
Wind and rock
Fire and rain
They will remain
When we return
The wind will blow
The fire will burn