Our Town

Candlelight vigil -- fighting hate with peace and ignorance with education

Candlelight vigil - Joanne Wilson
Candlelight vigil
— image credit: Joanne Wilson

A distorted media image of the Muslim people has become ingrained in Western culture.  Movies, television shows and video games continue to portray the Muslim people in the role of antagonist and when news reports detail violence in the Middle East, there is rarely an effort to find quotes from those who condemn the acts.  While airtime was given to radicals celebrating the events of 9/11, little airtime was given to those in the same area of the world mourning the loss of innocent lives.  Fast-breaking headlines tend to concentrate on the negative or threatening aspects of other societies in times of conflict and ignore the productive aspects of these same cultures when they are at peace.

Fighting hate with peace and ignorance with education, Tom Greentree, Leah Gailius and Shanelle Ainscow hosted a candlelight vigil on February 7th in remembrance of the six people killed and 19 injured in a recent attack on a Quebec mosque.  The vigil spoke of the strength and connectedness across Canada, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and also addressed the recent and ongoing refugee crisis.  Though it was a cold and snowy night, the 35-minute vigil brought together almost 60 people.

“It wasn’t meant to be a political statement,” said Greentree.  “This wasn’t about politics or government or religion.  We weren’t choosing sides.  This was to show that we care for people and support them, and that we stand with them.  The caring of people – whether refugees or not – is consistent with being a good human being.  Belief systems have nothing to do with it.”

“We wanted to show that even though we are a small town we are standing behind those that are living in fear – whether we’re of one faith or another or of no faith at all,” said Gailius.

“Hate has become normalized, and if silence is complacency then we didn’t want to be silent,” said Ainscow.

As well as providing moments of silence to either pray or to contemplate, Greentree performed a song he wrote especially for the occasion.  Linda Price of the Creston Refugee Committee also spoke, and Chief Jason Louie sang a victory song in Ktunaxa.

Greentree also chose to read the words from a Muslim friend.  “I wanted to include a Muslim voice – someone to speak from the community, and this was the closest thing to that.  Though I’m a Christian pastor, I wanted to show that I stood with my Muslim friend.  The Muslim people I know are warm and welcoming, but many of us have a fear of the unknown.  It is easy to see the differences in people but, of course, we are all more similar than different.  While governments may disagree, the people of the world are generally good and peaceful and are separated from law and policies.”

“In any religion, there are fanatics, and it is the fanatics that spread hate,” said Gailius.  “We tend to demonize what we don’t know and right now we are demonizing the Muslim faith.”

“Our goal was to raise awareness but also to provide a place to express our grief and solidarity.  I hope the vigil was an outlet for those wanting to express their sorrow, or to pray, or reflect, or whatever they felt was right for them at the time,” said Ainscow.  “Hopefully we made some steps towards understanding on a concrete, practical level.  We wanted to have Linda from the Refugee Committee there, and bring awareness to the good work the committee is doing.  We wanted to continue to build up the network of people that support and help.”

“It was so heartwarming to see everyone on Tuesday night – people coming out with sandwich boards and being visible,” added Gailius.

While addressing Islamophobia and the fear mongering that is so prominent with the recent election of President Trump, as well as the refugee crisis and the ongoing debates stemming from that issue, Greentree, Gailius and Ainscow wanted this vigil to be just the beginning.

“We don’t want this to be the only thing we do – like some token half-hour and then we move on.  This is an ongoing issue,” said Ainscow.  “We would like to see ongoing support for the Refugee Committee, and we would love to see people write letters to our Member of Parliament – or even donate to Islamic Relief Canada.  Even if we have just encouraged people to educate themselves as to what is going on, then we have made a difference.”

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the negativity, or to think that these kinds of gatherings don’t make a difference.  One negative action seems to negate a series of positive action,” said Galius.

“But we have to keep pushing for peace and solidarity,” said Ainscow.  “It’s easier to spread hatred than love, but we have to keep pushing forward.”

Information on the Canadian Muslim community can be found online at www.macnet.ca and www.islamicreliefcanada.org.  Information and a form letter opposing the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which prevents refugee status to most asylum seekers travelling from the United States to Canada, can be found at leapmanifesto.org/en/step-up-against-hate.


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