In the aftermath of the attack, sympathy for the victims poured in from across the world. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered condolences, as did Donald Trump. Officials in Paris turned off the Eiffel Tower’s lights. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure Muslims that Sunday’s “despicable act of terror” was an attack on the country’s cosmopolitanism. “We are with you,” Trudeau said. “Know that we value you, you enrich our shared country in immeasurable ways.”
But the mass shooting is a terrible reminder of another truth: a growing distrust toward Islam among Canadians, and a rise in far-right politicians eager to follow Donald Trump’s lead. Canada’s reputation as a safe, welcoming haven for refugees is no longer assured.
The anti-immigrant backlash that Trump and Le Pen represent in the United States and Europe has also been festering in Canada for years. In 2013, a survey conducted by the polling firm Angus Reid, suggested that 69 percent of people in the province of Quebec distrusted Islam. In the rest of Canada, it was 54 percent, up eight percentage points from 2009. “It’s disturbing to see this growing level of mistrust,” the firm’s Andrew Grenville said at the time.
Some see the Quebec City attacks as a disturbing sign of things to come. “There is already a growing and documented climate of Islamophobia in Canada,” said National Council of Canadian Muslims executive director Ihsaan Gardee. “There are legitimate fears that Trump’s so-called Muslim ban and accompanying rhetoric will lead to more hate, and further acts of violence.”
In Canada, Islam broke into the political debate in a major way in 2015, when the Conservative administration of former prime minister Stephen Harper passed an intrusive surveillance law aimed at combating “jihadi terrorism.” In the weeks before that year’s federal election, he proposed creating a police hotline where people could report “barbaric cultural practices.” Though the proposal didn’t specifically mention Islam, University of Ottawa law professor Natasha Bakht and other critics argued that it was intended for “targeting Muslim communities.”
The introduction of these policies seemed to coincide with a wave of hate crimes against Muslims. The policies also appeared to boost Conservative popularity. “Harper’s attempts to win over voters by demonizing Muslims are working,” read an Al Jazeera op-ed. Trudeau’s Liberal Party, by contrast, based its campaign on a different vision of Canada, one that made an appeal for unity. Liberals promised to quickly accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, arguing that “Canadians can and must do more to help Syrian refugees who are desperately seeking safety.”
Harper ultimately lost to Trudeau, and resigned as leader of the Conservative Party shortly after. “My friends, we beat fear with hope,” Trudeau said during his October 20, 2015, victory speech. “We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together.” Two months later, Trudeau personally welcomed Syrian refugees at Toronto’s airport. “You’re safe at home now,” he said, giving them warm coats for the cold Canadian winter.