A somber tone hung over the air in Nathan Phillips Square Friday as people gathered for a vigil to pay respects and mourn the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre.
On March 15, 50 people were killed when a gunman opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch. Men, women and children were among the victims of the shooting in the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, an act that many have denounced as terrorism at the hand of a self-described white supremacist.
The vigil was attended by hundreds of people, huddled under dark umbrellas and holding signs that read “United Against Islamophobia.” The various speakers expressed their condolences for the victims and denounced toxic white supremacy as a dangerous form of hatred.
Members from all three levels of government were also in attendance, including deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ward 13 councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and environment minister Rod Phillips.
“We are here today to stand with our Muslim communities and to make it clear that you have our unwavering support,” Minnan-Wong said in his speech.
Mayor John Tory was unable to attend, however did release a statement regarding the attacks earlier that day.
“In the wake of the attack, I have talked to members of the Muslim community to express my condolences and my unwavering support,” it read. “I want each and every member of our city’s Muslim community to know that your city supports you, your city is dedicated to protecting you, and your city respects and embraces you — just as Toronto embraces people of all faiths and backgrounds.”
The vigil was one of many being held in countries across the world that day, including Australia, England and the U.S.
Canada’s immigration minister Ahmed Hussen spoke to the crowd, as did Nadia Hasan, deputy director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Hassan said that although the news of the attack was shocking and devastating to all, it was not exactly surprising because of what Muslims hear and see on a daily basis.
“Islamophobia is a dangerous and lethal form of hate. White supremacy is a dangerous and lethal form of hate,” Hassan said in her address. “If we don’t call out hate at every opportunity we get it will fester and grow into something much worse.”
After hearing about the massacre, Shehroz Shabbir, arts director at the RSU, said he felt that it would be important for the university to get involved. Not only did he help organize the vigil held in Nathan Phillips Square, but he also took part in organizing a march led from the university campus.
“Islamophobia is on the rise around the world,” he said. “We need to stand together with our brothers and sisters in solidarity and condemn any kind of violence.”
Roha Saleeni is a fourth-year child and youth care student who was in attendance for both the march and vigil. She said that it’s important for recognition to be made at the university level first.
“It starts from university campuses,” Saleeni said. “I feel like this is kind of like my home. The more we start to recognize, and the more we start to shed light on events like these in our own academic institutions, I feel like we’re able to step into the bigger scheme of things in the world and make a stronger movement.”
Hala Alzeir, a first-year nutrition student, said that one of the reasons she came to the march was to pay her respects to the victims of the terrorist attack, citing the importance of showing solidarity in a multicultural city such as Toronto.
“It’s very multicultural,” Alzeir said. “It’s important to support the victims and show respect to the community.”