Calgarians courageous at candlelight vigil

I am ashamed of myself. Not because of anything I’ve said or done, but rather what I was nearly afraid to do. 

I debated to myself whether to attend the candlelight vigil outside City Hall on Monday, Jan. 30, in solidarity with those murdered in Quebec City. 

I questioned it because for one brief moment, I let fear win. I feared Calgary might be next. I feared that I couldn’t trust in my fellow human beings enough. 

Terror, which is the enemy of decency, won for a brief moment. But what kind of a person could let such fear rule them? I went anyways because I am sympathetic to the humanity that these vigils stand for. 

I’m glad now that I attended. I’m glad I got to speak with Calgarians standing there in solidarity. They stand in defiance of the terror that attacks such as the shooting in Quebec wish to strike into the hearts of all Canadians. 

Calgarians stood in honour of Khaled Belkacemi, Azzeddine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry who were killed in the attack. 

The vigil started with a prayer by Michelle Robinson, an Aboriginal community liaison. Robinson also acknowledged that Canada’s first mosque was built in Edmonton in 1938.

A letter from Mayor Naheed Nenshi was then read. Nenshi was the first Muslim mayor of a major Canadian city and was born to immigrant parents. 

“While the world may feel broken today, every one of us can heal it,” said Nenshi’s letter. 

He apologized to the crowd for being unable to attend in person, but resolved not to let the attacks break the spirit of optimism and hopefulness he feels are integral to Calgary. His letter contained strong words.

“Denounce hatred and intolerance wherever you find it,” said Nenshi.

Charles Parr, a plumber who attended the vigil, had stronger words for those who would seek to divide Canada.

“Fascists and racists, we will not tolerate. We have not forgotten and you cannot hide,” said Parr. 

Parr said he was shocked at the response on social media of those unwilling to call the shooting a terrorist attack. To him, it is not the work of a “crazy white man,” but the work of someone who has become radicalized by ideology that has become the norm.

“People need to examine their politics. We’ve let people ride a wave of hatred and bigotry into power,” said Parr. 

Once again, I am ashamed. These are the types of people who I questioned being counted amongst. 

Calgarians like Rev. Tara Livingston, of the Holy Nativity Anglican Church and a member of the Calgary Interfaith Council, who, despite being of a different faith, attended the vigil to mourn those who died. 

“My heart is so broken, they were in a place of worship,” said Livingston.

Rev. Carolyn Herold of the Saint Laurence Anglican Church also attended.

“I had to come. These were faithful children of God worshiping and I need to honour them and mourn,” said Herold. 

“We’ve all lost in this act, but standing together, our love conquers hate.”

Keziah Arsenault, a Calgarian at the vigil, described the attacks as “abhorrent.”

“Canada is the true land of the free, and we need to support that,” said Arsenault. 

“We will fight for their rights, because they are our brothers and our sisters.” 

No longer can Canadians let people get away with the increasing normalization of racism and intolerance in this country. 

No longer can decent people turn the other way when someone starts a sentence with, “I don’t mean to sound racist,” or gives an excuse for ignorance. 

Challenge these people. Stand up for what makes us all fundamentally good human beings; our tolerance and acceptance of difference.  Stand up for those that can’t, and stand up because some won’t.

It is only by action that we can begin to undo the damage that fear has done to us as Canadians. Attach your name to something that really matters, and stand with the courageous few.

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