January 31, 2017
Longtime Leslieville resident Joanne Doucette thought maybe 100 people would show up to a candlelight walk and vigil she organized in the Gerrard India Bazaar Monday night.
Instead, ten times that amount of people made their way to Gerrard Street East in a moving show of solidarity for the six men killed and 19 injured in an attack Sunday night at a Quebec City mosque.
“What a phenomenal event. We needed to say we care,” Doucette said as hundreds of people quietly dispersed into the night.
Doucette with the help of neighbour Tammy Rogers and local filmmaker Nina Beveridge organized the candlelight walk and vigil, which began with a piper playing a lament titled “Flowers of the Forest,” in just a matter of hours.
“It’s really exciting to see all of you here today,” said Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns, who said he felt a sense of foreboding after all of the unsettling rhetoric and actions that happened in the past week and over the weekend in Donald Trump’s America.
“It’s no surprise in the end death will come of it,” he said, adding everyone present tonight has a role to play in the healing process and in opposing bigotry and prejudice.
Ward 30 Coun. Paula Fletcher was visibly moved by the turnout.
“We are a great community in the east end of Toronto. We fight prejudice and bigotry,” she said, pointing to a number of occasions over the years where area residents have rejected racism in their community.
“We are one neighbourhood. We will surround those who need our help with love and care. They would do it for us.”
Ward 32 Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon said diversity is Canada’s strength and hope remains despite these challenging times.
“I want us to continue to stand up for what we believe in, to fight for what we believe in,” she said, shortly before the large crowd walked silently over to the Fatih Mosque on Rhodes Avenue for a few moments of prayer and reflection.
On the steps of the local mosque, Imam Noor Irkakar offered blessings to everyone for their support. He also said everyone must remember that all humans are all descendants of the same God.
Farah Malik of the Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians said bigotry and hatred can be defeated and urged people to try to understand why this type of hatred is happening during one of the most civilized times in human history.
Rev. Robin Wardlaw of the nearby Glen Rhodes United Church said he was proud to see 1,000 people come out on such short notice to support their brothers and sisters.
“Our hearts go out to all the people who are experiencing such loss,” he said before offering a blessing of peace and encouraging all in attendance to be a “light in the darkness.”
Hundreds of people spontaneously started singing “O Canada” in both French and English before proceeding over to Coxwell Avenue and back westward along the north side of Gerrard Street East in a symbolic circling of the neighbourhood.
Riverdale resident Shirley Russ said it was important for her to attend the vigil to show her solidarity as a Jewish person with her Muslim brothers and sisters.
“These are people who (are) being attacked clearly on the basis of their religion and truthfully on the basis of their race,” she said.
Area resident Matt Humphries also came out to show his support.
“I think this is an important demonstration of Canadian values,” he said.
East-end residents Julia Patterson and Nancy Johnson said they both started the day with tears but decided to brave the frigid evening to show their support for their Muslim friends.
Syeda Quadri came down from Markham with her children to attend the vigil.
“It is very sad what has happened so we just wanted to come and show solidarity,” she said,
“Of all places, I never imagined this would happen in Canada. It’s scary.”
Quadri said she felt moved to see so many people come out Monday night but in some ways she said it’s something she’s come to expect here in Canada.
Her 15-year-old daughter Eman Khan pushed her mother to bring the family down to the neighbourhood for the vigil.
“I feel it’s really important to stand up against something that’s wrong,” she told the Mirror.
“Everyone is an immigrant here in Canada. Diversity is what makes us stronger.”