Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged his support and sympathy on Monday afternoon to the Quebec Muslim community following a deadly terrorist attack at a mosque. At pretty much the exact same time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cast the bloodshed as “a terrible reminder why we must remain vigilant and why the president is taking steps to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to our nation’s safety and security.”
The White House’s attempt to use the attack as justification for President Donald Trump’s national security agenda, which thus far has targeted refugees and a number of Muslim-majority nations, is in stark contrast to the Canadian political rhetoric.
It is still unclear what drove a gunman to open fire at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, killing six Sunday night. And the only suspect in the Quebec City attack was born in Canada and appears to have sympathies to the far-right.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale indirectly chided Spicer for his comments on Monday afternoon, telling reporters that it was still too early to conclude a motive in the attacks and, when pushed, added that: “The US administration is commenting on what they see as the circumstances, quite frankly.”
“Make no mistake, this was a terrorist attack,” Trudeau said in the House of Commons on Monday. “It was an attack on our most intrinsic and cherished values as Canadians; values of openness, diversity, and freedom of religion.”
He urged parliamentarians and the public as a whole to “try and be the best versions of ourselves,” adding that his government believed in “combatting fear and division with messages of positivity and hope.”
Nineteen people were injured in the shooting, which broke out during evening prayers, with five still in critical condition. Another 39 others escaped unharmed.
In English and in French, Trudeau spoke directly to Quebec’s Muslim community in saying: “We are with you” — a sentiment endorsed by Trudeau’s political rivals across the aisle, and backed up by a standing round of applause in the House of Commons.
Trudeau, as well as the leaders of the opposition parties, will travel to Quebec City on Monday afternoon.
Leader of the Official Opposition Rona Ambrose said the attack “negates the principles on which Canada was founded,” third-party leader Thomas Mulcair began his remarks with “as-salam ‘alaykoum.” and promised to “fight against the forces of hatred, bigotry, Islamophobia, and against those who peddle the politics of fear and division.” Leaders of the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party also offered their condolences to the victims and their families.
Trudeau did not respond to questions on Monday afternoon as to whether far-right rhetoric worldwide had a role in the Quebec attack, but that didn’t stop some of his colleagues.
Asked whether anti-Islamic rhetoric south of the border played a role in Sunday’s attack, “I believe, yes it is. It cannot be isolated at all,” said Deepak Obhrai, a member of parliament who is vying for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
Charlie Angus, Member of Parliament for the centre-left New Democratic Party, said that while he still didn’t know the exact motivation of the attack, he noted the rise in “race baiting” and added: “there is a growing tension and, as Canadians, we do not want to be victims to this.”
As Trump rose to power on a wave of political support that included the Republican base, the alt-right, and even avowed white supremacists, Canada, too, has seen an increase in similar rhetoric.
Conservative Party leadership contender Kellie Leitch has been accused of ratcheting up fears of Muslim-Canadians and Syrian refugees with her campaign promise to beef up immigration screenings and reduce migrant intake.
Online outlet The Rebel, styled after the far-right website Breitbart, has also pushed anti-Muslim news stories in recent months, launching microsites such as ‘Canadian jihad.’
The website latched onto early reports, which misidentified a witness as a suspect, to suggest that the shooting was “a Muslim attacking a mosque.” Not long after the shooting, they uploaded a post suggesting that the target of Sunday night’s attack had “a bitter rivalry with another breakaway mosque.”