09/06/2013 07:04 EDT | Updated 11/06/2013 05:12 EST

Saguenay non-Muslims rally in support of local mosque

About 20 Christians and other non-Muslims gathered before Friday prayers outside the Saguenay mosque that was vandalized last weekend, to show their support for the Quebec city's small Muslim community and its place of worship.

Last weekend, someone threw what was claimed to be pig's blood on the building and left behind an angry tract, denouncing Islam and demanding followers "assimilate or go home."

The demonstration "is a base for building bridges between different faiths within the community — to find a common ground on which to talk to each other, exchange ideas and also support each other when something like this happens," said Christian Bélanger, one of the organizers of the event.

Jocelyn Gérard, a pastoral worker with Saguenay's Roman Catholic diocese, said the importance of today's demonstration was making the time "to transform the negative [act] of this person to a positive one — showing our friendship."

'Living together' Facebook page

Gérard said until the desecration happened, he knew of individual Muslims living in Saguenay, but he wasn't even aware of the existence of a mosque.

"Now that we know," Gérard said, he and others are planning future interfaith activities, such as inviting Christians, Buddhists and others to mark the start of Ramadan with Muslims in Saguenay or inviting Muslims to gather with Christians at the start of Lent.

As an initial step, Gérard has set up a Facebook page called "Co-exister au Saguenay" — "Living together in Saguenay."

'The majority welcome us,' Muslim says

Alexandre Nichols, a CÉGEP de Chicoutimi student who worships at the mosque, welcomed the demonstration of support.

He said Muslims who have lived in Saguenay for many years have dismissed last weekend's vandalism as an isolated though shocking incident.

"We know the majority," he said. "We know they welcome us."

However, he said newcomers to the region — such as university students from Morocco and Algeria, along with their families — have been shaken by what happened.

"They have only been here for a month, and already they're faced with this," he said. "They're worried about this."

The NDP MP for Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, Dany Morin, acknowledged that concern.

He was at the demonstration, along with the former Bloc Québécois member of parliament for the riding, Robert Bouchard.

"It's so important for members of the political class to show up…to denounce those acts and say we will not tolerate them in our home city," said Morin. "We are a welcoming nation, and in Saguenay–Lac St-Jean we are known to be very nice folks. So they must not live in fear."

In an indirect reference to the PQ government's proposed Charter of Quebec values, Morin said some of his Muslim constituents are worried about the tone of the current debate — and that there could be an escalation of anti-Islamic rhetoric.

"Sometimes we have picked on Muslims, on women Muslims in particular, in an us-versus-them debate," Morin said. "That is not a constructive debate."

"We need to make sure in Canada, in Quebec, in Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean, whatever national debate that we have is built upon respect — and also to seek solutions that respect the Canadian Charter of Rights, and we do not take rights away."