In Quebec, like France, security fears may deepen rift with Muslims

Fri Nov 20, 2015 2:22am EST
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By Richard Valdmanis

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Reluctance among residents in Quebec to accept thousands of Syrian refugees is deepening a rift with the province's Muslim community, raising worries that more Muslims could become radicalized as they have in France and other European nations.

Like France, the French-speaking Canadian province has struggled to reconcile its secular identity with a rising Muslim population, many of them immigrants from North Africa.

Since last Friday's attacks in Paris claimed by Islamic State militants, an anti-refugee petition launched in Quebec has garnered more than 75,000 signatures nationwide and Montreal police have arrested a man who posted a video on social media vowing to kill one Arab per week.

Canada’s plan to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year is facing resistance from some provincial and municipal leaders, who say the short timeline does not allow for enough security checks. Quebec would take around 6,000 of the refugees.

"I'm in favor of helping the refugees in theory, but security needs to be a priority, and we also need to make sure that we are providing enough support for the immigrants that are already here. Honestly, I don't think we're ready for this," said Alain Bernard, 55, from Quebec City.

Some Muslim residents, who in total number about 243,000 or 3 percent of Quebec's population, find the argument weak.

"People here are brainwashed to fear us," said Sabir Alizada, a 39-year-old Muslim immigrant from Azerbaijan, after evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City. "It used to be the West feared communism, now it fears Islam."

France has one of the largest Muslim communities in any Western European nation and has seen tensions soar in recent years over issues similar to those appearing in Quebec: high poverty and unemployment levels for ethnic minorities and efforts to enforce secularism.   Continued...

A couple looks at the grain silos in the Port of Quebec lit up in blue, white and red, the colours of the French flag, following a vigil in memory of the victims of the Paris attacks, in Quebec City, November 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Christinne Muschi