Exactly one year after the arrival of Whitehorse’s first Syrian refugee family, about 200 Yukoners gathered at the Wharf in downtown Whitehorse to mourn the deaths of six men killed at a mosque in Quebec City on Sunday.
People gathered in a circle around the totem pole near the corner of Main and Front streets on Monday evening, holding candles and bundled against the cold.
Muhammad Javed, the organizer of the Yukon Muslims Society, was first of a series of speakers that included Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis and deputy premier Ranj Pillai.
“The only way to overcome our fear and grief in these moments is through love and unity,” Javed said. “We are grateful to live in an open, welcoming society, and we hope that with the support of neighbours, friends, colleagues and fellow Canadians, Muslims in Quebec and aross the country will continue practising their faith without fear.”
Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill spoke directly to Javed during her turn at the microphone.
“I just want to say to the Muslim community, you’re safe here,” she said. “We welcome you here. And I’m sorry, so sorry (for) what your community is going through right now.”
On Sunday evening, six men were killed by a shooter during evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City. Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old university student, is the only suspect.
Raquel De Queiroz, who heads Yukon Cares, reminded the crowd that the Syrian refugee family her group sponsored arrived in Whitehorse exactly one year ago.
“And it was just a year ago that many of you were at the airport with big smiles, welcoming them,” she said. “It’s really tragic that we have to meet a year later, here, under these circumstances.”
After the speeches, those assembled observed a minute of silence, before placing their candles around the base of the totem pole. Many shook hands with Javed before they left.
Ian Smith said he had to attend the vigil after hearing the news. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was just in complete shock. It’s bad enough that you hear it in other places, never mind in our country. I’d like to think that we’re a little bit bigger than that.”
Javed said he felt inspired to see so many people turn up.
“In this sad moment, it makes me happy that so many people care about the pain, other people’s pain,” he told the News.
Though the tragedy in Quebec was the focus of Monday evening’s vigil, U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban, which applies to seven Muslim-majority countries, was clearly on people’s minds. Some spoke about it in small groups as they lingered on the Wharf.
Javed’s daughter, Fatima, said she’s about to go to optometry school in Chicago, and worries about what she’s been seeing in the news.
“It is discouraging as a Muslim. Especially as a young Muslim,” she said. “We’re trying to find our own identities as Muslims, and it’s discouraging when you see this around the world.”
But she said it meant a lot to see so many people attend the vigil in Whitehorse.
“When my family first came here, we were the only Muslim family,” she said. “So it’s been a long journey for us and to see that our community has our back, it’s really touching.”
On Tuesday, press secretary Sunny Patch told the News the Yukon government has heard from some Yukoners who are concerned about upcoming travel plans in the wake of the ban. She said people with concerns can contact Global Affairs Canada at 613-996-8885 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said he’s also heard from some Yukoners urging Canada to accept refugees who cannot now travel to the U.S., and he will pass those messages on to the federal immigration minister.
“I appreciate the sentiments of Yukoners that are welcoming and open,” he said.
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com