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Mourners embrace during funeral services for three of the victims of the mosque attack, at the Congress Centre in Quebec City, Feb. 3, 2017.

Messages of hope from community leaders have amplified in recent days. But many Muslim Quebeckers are wondering if the hate they've faced has been left to fester for too long, and what hurdles they may face moving forward

Candles, roses and handwritten notes sprout from the snowbanks outside the Grand Mosque in Quebec City like a collective testament to a city's shock. "I am devastated, have courage," says a scrawl in a child's writing. "We are with you," reads another.

All week long, to the sound of boots crunching on snow, mourners have made a pilgrimage to the mosque where six Muslim men lost their lives to a gunman's bullets. They're part of an outpouring in a province that has begun a painful reckoning about the place and treatment of its Muslim minority.

"I think this will cause us all to reflect, to talk about the other, the stranger, and how we treat them," said Claudette Harvey, a retired administrator who came to pay her respects outside the mosque. "Quebec City is pretty homogenous. There are a lot of people we don't really know, that we fear. That's what allows hate to take root."

Messages of hope and support for the stricken community have multiplied from vigils, pulpits and political podiums all week. On Friday, as funeral services were held for three victims in Quebec City, Premier Philippe Couillard spoke of a new current of hope in the province.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard gather in front of caskets of three of the six victims on Feb. 3, 2017.

"Let us eradicate hatred, prejudice and racism," the Premier, who worked as a physician in Saudi Arabia in the early 1990s, said in a speech sprinkled with Arabic.

The question remains whether there will be, as Mr. Couillard said earlier in the week, a "before" and an "after" the attack, and whether it will lead to a fundamental shift in the province's relationship with its religious minorities, especially Muslims.

"We appreciate the solidarity deeply, but you can't change attitudes just with expressions of fraternity," said Mohammed Ali Saïdane, who has lived in Quebec City for 35 years. "We have to change this negative image of bombs and blood that's grown around us, change the ignorance that has fed xenophobia."

The negative comments about the Muslim community in Quebec City had been left to fester for too long, he said. "We're doctors and cooks, computer scientists and taxi drivers – that is our community. We are Quebeckers, we are Canadians, we contribute, and want to take our place in this society."

A makeshift memorial near the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, Feb. 2, 2017.

The entire country is struggling to understand what fuelled such a bloody assault on innocent worshippers in prayer, but nowhere are the questions being felt more sharply than in Quebec City, which views itself as a proud and peaceful place far removed from the hurly-burly of big-city Montreal.

In some ways, the attack exposed fault lines that run just below the surface of the civil-service town and tourist spot, known for its European charm, cobblestoned Old City and festive winter carnival.

The shootings unfolded in the suburb of Ste. Foy, far from glamorous Quebec City landmarks like the Château Frontenac. Some wonder whether warning signs preceding the attack were ignored. Last June, a pig's head was left at the mosque entrance during Ramadan; the following month, anti-Islam pamphlets that described the mosque as a "hotbed of radicalism" were dropped in neighbourhood mailboxes.

No one knows what was going through the head of the 27-year-old shooting suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, who appears to have embraced far-right views. But the search for answers has led to the city's high-profile radio talk shows, where the airwaves often peddle in unfiltered commentary over Muslim immigration, veiled women and Islamic terrorism. Last October, a commentator on CHOI Radio X declared bluntly: "Islam is incompatible with Western values, that's the reality."

A mourner places his hand on one of the caskets during funeral services for three of the victims, Feb. 3, 2017.

Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume took a rare swipe at the stations this week, criticizing "those who profit from hate."

Muslims have also become targets in Quebec's divisive discussions over identity and secularism. The wrenching debate over the Parti Québécois' "charter of values," which would have banned religious symbols such as the hijab in the public service, was part of a wider discussion over Quebec values that resurfaces regularly in the province.

For years, Quebec's media have erupted with supposed controversies involving the Muslim community, such as a sensational tabloid news report in 2007 that a group of Muslim visitors demanded that a menu at a maple sugar shack be changed to remove ham from the pea soup; in fact, the group had reached an agreement with the owner beforehand and brought their own food, with halal meat, for their own consumption.

In the end, some observers say, the reporting and rhetoric stoked suspicions among the Quebec majority and insecurity in a Muslim minority still trying to get its footing in an adopted land.

"I had feared this day would come," Mohamed Yangui, president of the mosque that was attacked, said about the shootings. "Some nights I couldn't sleep because of what was being said about us. Why in these debates do they always target Muslims? As Muslims in Quebec City we deplore what radicals are doing in the name of Islam. Why am I penalized for that?"

Mohamed Yangui stands in front of the Centre culturel islamique de Québec the day after the shooting.

The tensions in Quebec City may simply be part of the growing pains in a city that has long been overwhelmingly homogenous. Montreal is the province's only cosmopolitan centre, the magnet for waves of immigrants for centuries, and it still attracts 87 per cent of international immigration to Quebec.

The Muslim community in Quebec City is small – between 5,000 and 7,000, less than 1 per cent of the population – and relatively recent. While Muslim students began trickling into Laval University in the 1970s, it was only in the last 15 years that the city began to take in larger numbers of newcomers from North Africa, favoured because they were mostly educated and spoke French.

Despite their qualifications, they have faced hurdles landing jobs in their fields; they also encounter housing discrimination, said Stéphanie Arsenault, a social-work professor at Laval University who works with immigrant communities. Anecdotes of being told apartments were unavailable, only to see them rented to someone with a traditional Québécois name, are not uncommon, she said.

"The community speaks French, so it's paradoxical that they face discrimination," Dr. Arsenault said. "It shows it's not just language that's causing a problem. It's a fear that the Quebec population is cultivating toward those who seem different from us."

Perhaps because of its small size, the city's Muslim community has kept a low profile and avoided making waves. The targeted mosque in Ste. Foy, known as the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, goes easily unnoticed because it looks like a bank – for good reason. The two-storey building is a former branch of the Caisse populaire Desjardins, taken over by the Muslim community in 2009 to accommodate its growing numbers.

Centre culturel islamique de Québec reopened to the community Feb. 1, 2017.

The Muslim community in Quebec City doesn't even have a cemetery to bury its dead – something Mr. Labeaume promised Friday to change.

Even in the aftermath of the shootings, several have spoken out about their attachment to their Quebec City neighbours. All week, in front of the onslaught of media interviews and probing TV cameras, the grieving community has shown remarkable equanimity, answering questions and welcoming outsiders into their mosques and homes. Some have even expressed sympathy for the gunman, who they said ruined his life and that of his family.

Yet the attack also brought with it a sense of vulnerability about their safety in a country they sought out, in some cases, to escape violence in their homelands.

"We felt discrimination before, we felt racism, but this took it one step further, people's lives are at risk," said Rachid ben-Amor, 56, who came to Quebec City from Tunisia in 1984. "I never thought I could feel threatened before. Now we've discovered we can be a target."

Rachid Ben-Amor working the counter at the Épicerie-Boucherie Assalam market on Wednesday. The market was owned by his friend, Moroccan-born mosque shooting victim Azzeddine Soufiane.

Mr. ben-Amor felt the violence keenly. The assault took the life of a close friend, Azzeddine Soufiane, a 57-year-old halal grocery owner and father of three believed to have been shot dead in the mosque as he tried to stop the gunman. To help his friend's bereaved family, Mr. ben-Amor stepped in to work at the grocery this week.

"Today I am asking myself whether to remain in Quebec. I'm integrated and have an enormous number of Québécois friends," Mr. ben-Amor said from behind the grocery counter. "But now that I feel we were targeted, I wonder if we have our place here."

On Friday, at the funeral, Mr. Soufiane's 15-year-old son, Ilies, stood among the mourners at the Quebec City convention centre. He is one of 17 children left fatherless by the tragedy.

Throughout the emotional week, some asked whether the province's soul-searching would continue after the marches and vigils ended, and whether the temporary pause it brought to Quebec's polarizing political debates over immigration and identity debate would last.

"It's like something broke – will it be repaired?" Mohamed Haroun said after his evening prayers at a local mosque in Quebec City. "This feels like a giant wound, and it will take time for it to close. I know it will leave scars."

He believes the sentiments of solidarity expressed in the memorials outside the shuttered mosque were genuine. What he doesn't know is what will happen once the snowbanks melt.