THUNDER BAY – “Devastating, disturbing and shocking.”
Walid Chahal on Friday struggled to find the words to describe a horrific attack on a pair of New Zealand mosques saw 49 people massacred and at least 48 injured and in hospital, a hate crime allegedly committed by a suspect full of rage against Muslims and immigrants.
A 28-year-old man has been arrested and charged with murder, while two others remain in custody, according to Christchurch, N.Z. police.
The attack comes slightly more than two years after six Muslims were killed at a Quebec City mosque by another right-wing terrorist and has convinced Chahal that there might not be any more safe spaces left in the world.
“It can happen anywhere,” said Chahal, a former president of the Thunder Bay Muslim Association who also teaches at Lakehead University, as well as the co-chair of Diversity Thunder Bay.
“There’s no such thing as a safe space anymore. What we need to do is to try to combat the politics of hate and Islamaphobia and move in the direction of anti-racism and do something toward the hate against immigrants and the hate against specific groups, whether in the context of religion or ethnicity or culture.”
Chahal praised the reaction of politicians showing solidarity for the victims and the Muslim community as a whole, singling out the work of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has welcomed immigrants to this country with open arms.
It’s a stark contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has attempted to impose a ban on Muslims entering the United States and has sought to limit immigration while trying to secure funding to build a wall along his country’s southern border.
“When politicians have such a discourse, have such a rhetoric of hate, that obviously fuels the fire, that obviously triggers such a response,” he said. “The hatred that is out there, the Islamaphobia that is out there, something needs to be done about it.
“In the case of this person, it seems he has planned this for two years. He wanted to take action and he had it as part of his manifesto, that he wanted to do something against immigrants and Muslims.”
Chahal, who said policies need to be put in place to limit access to automatic weaponry, said he’s not sure if the local mosque will heighten security measures or not, but he’s not ruling out the possibility.
Reaction from other Ontario dignitaries was swift and condemning of the attacks.
Liberal MP Patty Hajdu quickly tweeted out her disgust at the deadly shootings.
“(I’m) appalled and saddened by the news of the shootings today in New Zealand,” Hajdu said. “My deepest condolences to all those impacted by this senseless act of violence. To the Muslim communities in Canada and around the world, we stand with you.”
Premier Doug Ford also condemned the violent attacks.
“I join people across Ontario and Canada and stand with all legislators at Queen’s Park in condemning this hatred and violence towards our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Ford tweeted.
A vigil will be held on Friday night from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Thunder Bay Masjid, where a prayer will be held for the victims of the attack.
All are welcome.