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‘Justice hasn’t had its last say’: Survivors of the Quebec City mosque shooting in their own words

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Survivors of the Quebec City mosque shooting, and loved ones of those who were slain, expressed frustration and confusion on Friday after gunman Alexandre Bissonnette was sentenced to 40 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

“This person who killed six, left 17 orphans, he’s being given the chance to walk in society again,” said Said El-Amari, who was shot twice by Bissonnette at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29, 2017. 

The Crown had asked for Bissonnette’s parole ineligibility periods to be served consecutively, for a total of 150 years, which would have been the longest prison sentence in Canadian history.

As it is, Bissonnette will be eligible for parole when he is 67.

“[The children] will have to show up again, to try to keep this assassin inside,” El-Amari, a father of four, said. He was visibly angry and struggled to maintain his composure when speaking with reporters at the courthouse.

He said it sent the message that “a Canadian Muslim is worth less than another Canadian.”

Said El-Amari was shot twice by gunman Alexandre Bissonnette. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

“For the three RCMP officers who were killed in cold blood in New Brunswick, justice was swift,” he said, noting that the gunman in that case, Justin Bourque, was sentenced to 75 years without parole.

“There was never any question of if he’d re-enter society.”

El-Amari will be 82 when Bissonnette is up for parole and expects he’ll have to “live this pain again.”

Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre Imam Hassan Guillet called the sentence “creative,” noting that Superior Court Justice François Huot had “insisted on the hateful character of this criminal act.” 

“[Bissonnette] came to kill these people for the only reason that they were Muslim,” he said.

As he read the sentence, Huot said Bissonnette’s “crimes were truly motivated by race, and a visceral hatred toward Muslim immigrants.”

For Guillet, the sentence is a missed opportunity to send a message to anyone inciting hatred online or elsewhere.

Mosque co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah said the whole Muslim community is disappointed and surprised by the judge’s decision.

He asks Quebecers to understand what it feels like for members of the Muslim community right now.

“I hope, that this disappointment transfers into something productive,” he said.

Mosque co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah said the judge’s sentence was a surprise to the community. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

Aymen Derbali, who was left tetraplegic after being struck by seven bullets in the shooting, said he had “wanted the sentence to match the crime.” He was surprised.

“We would have liked justice to have been served for all the victims,” he said.

Mohamed Labidi, the former president of the mosque, said the community rejects the judge’s decision.

“We have faith in justice. Justice hasn’t had its last say,” Labidi said.

Megda and Amir Belkacemi, whose father Khaled Belkacemi was killed in the shooting, thanked the RCMP, provincial police and Quebec City police for doing “a remarkable job.”

Megda and Amir Belkacemi, the children of Khaled Belkacemi, who was among those killed in the shooting, thanked law enforcement for their work on the case. (Maxime Corneau/Radio-Canada)

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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