I wince when I hear people refer to the events in Ottawa this past Wednesday as “Canada’s 9/11.” And I’m glad that I’ve only seen the phrase “10/22” used once in print.
What happened on Wednesday was tragic. Senseless. Troubling. An event indeed worthy of reflection. A man opened fire in our national Parliament, and died in a place that I myself have walked by. And it could have been so much worse.
While I’m saddened about what happened, I do not feel like Canada’s innocence has been shattered, or that the Canada I live in today is any different than the Canada that existed before Wednesday’s events.
I don’t feel the sense of terror and impending doom that I felt on September 11, 2001. I just feel sad.
A lot has been written since Wednesday, but there are two articles that best sum up my feelings on this week’s events.
In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, writes in “Canada Should Keep Calm and Carry On“:
One feels for Stephen Marche when he writes, in Esquire, “The Canada I believed to be so safe, so secure is gone. All of that was the Canada of my youth. This is Canada now.” The way he feels is understandable.
It is also irrational and needs to be understood as such.
The murder of 2 people does not mark a new era. It does not render one of the word’s safest countries unsafe. It does not make one of history’s most secure nations insecure. We cannot know the future with certainty, but everything we know about the present and recent past suggests overreacting to these attacks poses a greater threat to Canada than terrorism, much as the Iraq War killed more Americans than 9/11, cost more money than 9/11, and did more to weaken us than 9/11.
The panic that followed 9/11–that most of us felt–was at least informed by the fact that America had never suffered an attack like it. The notion that Canada has just broken with a halcyon past when it was safe from even two murders is historical amnesia.
“This was not the first time Canada’s parliament had been a target, nor was it the biggest terrorist attack in the country’s history,” The Economist notes. “An inept bomber intent on killing as many MPs as possible blew himself up in the same building in 1966, and an armed man hijacked a bus and fired shots outside parliament in 1989. The 1985 bombing of an Air India flight to London from Toronto, in which 329 people died, remains the largest terror attack originating in Canada.”
Then there was the FLQ crisis, which Americans would regard as one of the most gripping parts of Canadian history if we knew any…
More significantly, for our purposes, “Canada’s most recent major gun tragedy occurred in June, when 24-year-old Justin Bourque, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, shotgun, and crossbow, shot five Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers in Moncton, New Brunswick, killing three.” But there’s no suggestion that the killer was a radical Muslim, so the world was mostly oblivious.
I’ve often noted that even in 2001, the year of the most successful terrorist attack in U.S. history, Americans were orders of magnitude more likely to be killed in a car crash. Today it’s worth remembering that for the last year, five years, ten years, or 20 years, Canadians were significantly less likely to be harmed by terrorists than a car crash involving a moose. I cannot promise that the moose menace won’t be overtaken this year by the terrorist menace, but presuming as much from attacks that killed two people isn’t just irrational, it is irresponsible fear-mongering.
It’s funny that the FLQ crisis also came up when I was talking about the week’s events with a colleague of mine. I also pointed out that the chances of any Canadian being killed by a terrorist remains about 1 in 17 million.
I’m still not even convinced that the gunman that ran into Parliament was really a terrorist. All of the information so far seems to point to someone that was possibly mentally ill, but the fact that he recently supposedly became a Muslim convert has overshadowed the other details of his background that show a troubled young man.
While the three political parties understandably played nice in the hours after the attack, there was a notable difference in their addresses to the nation that same evening that point to the possible political ramifications of Wednesday’s events. The Conservatives quickly grabbed on to the Islamic extremism element, while the NDP and Liberals weren’t as quick to point fingers.
While I’m interested in how this will play going into next year’s federal election, there’s lots of time to reflect on that.
As I was about to read the following Scott Gilmore article from Maclean’s, excerpts of which are posted below, I thought about Norway’s reaction to the murder of more than seventy of its citizens, many teenagers, and what Canada could learn from it. My thoughts turned out to be somewhat prescient:
The morning after the horrific Oslo terrorist attack three years ago, the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg declared that the only proper response was “more democracy, more openness, but not naivety.” That is what Canada needs now. That is what has made Canada great. It is not the height of our walls nor the impregnability of our buildings, it is our openness. As Paul Wells poetically wrote, “you can’t keep a country in lockdown, not while preserving the things that made the country worth having in the first place. Much like its capital precinct, Canada is a big open field, too.”
Before we demand that all the other potential terrorist suspects are rounded up, let us remember that it was the very issue of individual freedoms and the arbitrary seizure of “freemen” that led England’s barons to rise up and demand the Magna Carta, the beginning of the constitutional system that Canada cherishes so much. Ironically, by trying to safeguard our parliament, we would be undermining the ideals upon which it was founded.
Our leaders, and those who are charged with protecting us and our institutions should take down the police tape. Continue to be vigilant and prepared and, yes, be less naïve. But be more open. Remove the barriers.
Return the honour guard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Lower the fences so we can better see the Peace Tower. Invite Canadians back into its Parliament. Make Oct. 22 an annual open house. A day when all Canadians can walk through the House of Commons, to appreciate the carved stone and oak, to touch the now bullet-pocked walls of the Hall of Honour and to meditate on what it means to be both strong and free.
Maintaining freedom requires strength. May we as Canadians demand that our politicians remain strong and determined to keep our nation’s openness.