Four survivors of the 2017 Quebec City mosque attack who tried to stop the gunman were among 34 people awarded medals for bravery Tuesday by Governor General Mary Simon. One of the men who died in the attack was honored posthumously.
The badges are reserved for Canadians who risked their lives to save friends, family or even strangers.
Six people were killed and 19 injured when a gunman stormed the Islamic Cultural Center in the Sainte-Foy neighborhood just after Sunday night prayers on January 29, 2017.
Saïd Akjour, Hakim Chambaz, Aymen Derbali and Mohamed Khabar received the Medal for Bravery at the ceremony held at the Quebec Citadel.
Azzedine Soufiane, who was killed by the gunman while trying to disarm him, was posthumously awarded the Star of Courage. He was introduced to his daughters, Zineb and Hajar Soufiane.
“Today we present these badges as the ultimate recognition of courage and sacrifice. Today we pay tribute to their brave and selfless actions,” Simon said.
“You all made the decision to try to save a life. You gave the most important gift in an impossible, life-changing situation: you gave the gift of hope… You showed how much you care. Bravery is an act of caring, after of everything. everything.”
Derbali, who was seriously injured and is now wheelchair-bound, said he was moved to receive the prestigious award and hear the Governor General’s words of gratitude.
“I feel very honored and it is a very gratifying act of recognition for me and for everyone else who was at the mosque that night,” Derbali said.
Derbali was near the mosque entrance when the gunman opened fire. He ran towards him to destabilize him and was shot several times, but he still tried to get up several times. Derbali is now paraplegic.
Meanwhile, Chambaz had protected a girl who had frozen in the middle of the room. Then, as the gunman hid to reload his gun, Soufiane ran towards him from the other end of the room to try to stop him, with the help of Akjour and Khabar. Soufiane grabbed the attacker’s gun, but was shot five times and died from his wounds.
Derbali took the time to remember the victims but stressed that the conversation must include the fight against Islamophobia and hatred.
“It’s important not to forget, but above all to work hard and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.
“We honor the memory of the victims, there should be an effort to eradicate the source of the tragedy, which is Islamophobia. It is our duty to fight Islamophobia and all forms of racism and discrimination.”
Derbali was at the ceremony with his family, including his 14-year-old son, Ayoub.
“Of course my father is a hero, no one could have done that,” Ayoub said.
“Destabilizing the murderer and trying to find solutions, fighting that person and defending others in the mosque, no one can do it, it takes a lot of courage.”
About 4,000 Canadians have received the award since 1972.