On Sunday evening, as candlelight cast shadows on snowdrifts in Prentice Park, about 30 Elk Valley residents made a stand against hatred in a show of support for the victims of the Jan. 29 shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec.
A wooden candle holder inscribed with the words “six lives lost,” in Arabic held candles in honour of the victims killed in the attack.
“We barely got out of our driveway to get here,” said event organizer Chrisy Hill. “I found that this storm is symbolic of what we are doing. We talked about canceling but just because things get bad doesn’t mean we can just forget.
“The worse the storm, the more important it is for us to stand up and stick together.”
The event brought together both long-time Elk Valley residents and new arrivals who spoke in support of diversity and against intolerance and Islamophobia.
Aslan and Farzeen Nasir and their three children attended the vigil as representatives of the Elk Valley’s Muslim population.
“I’m so proud to be here and I’m so mentally relaxed,” said Aslan. “My kids and I are in a safe place. Fernie is my first home. I must say you guys are so loving, thank you so much.”
“Everyone used to ask me why not a big city?” she continued. “Why have you come to a small town? I just came here with the mind that I might go to a big city but when I settled here I was like ‘no, I am not going anywhere.’”
The Nasirs immigrated to the Elk Valley from Pakistan. They own and operate the Fas Gas Plus in Fernie.
Farzeen said they have felt welcome in their adopted country since arriving at Edmonton International Airport in 2003 after a 40-hour flight.
“The first stage was the immigration counter. I was holding my daughter and I was almost sleeping and two of my kids were sleeping on the floor. We were very scared of what kind of questions we would be asked,” he said.
The gentleman at the immigration desk took one look at the exhausted family and loaded all of their belongings onto a baggage cart before he pushed it himself to their next destination.
“From that day we haven’t found any person who has said ‘who are you? Or where do you come from? It’s all good. We don’t have words. We never felt like strangers here.”
After a few words were spoken in memory of the victims, the crowd observed a moment of silence.
The event concluded with organizer Kim Villasenor distributing a handout of suggestions for combating intolerance. One suggestion was to get to know your neighbour.
“I’m sure we all have neighbours that we do know but there are probably some that we don’t,” she said. “So it’s a real practical and easy one that we can do.”