Reaction to Shootings on Parliament Hill

Submitted (but alas not accepted anywhere) week of October 22

The event at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill earlier this week was not the first time that violence has interrupted the smooth flow of Canadian life, nor should we expect it will be the last.

Over the last twenty-five years, many “lone gunmen” have caused havoc for communities large and small: Montreal, Moncton, Regina, Slocan.

But as our southern neighbors rightly remind us, freedom is not “free.” It must be paid for in courage, and in our national willingness to accept some risks as inevitable. And in this case, our freedom has been paid for by the sacrifice of a soldier on ceremonial duty at a war memorial in our nation’s capital city.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And security experts agree it wasn’t really preventable.

As Canadians, we have invested generations’ worth of effort in developing our ability to make room for multiple points of view, so we can live side by side with the people from around the world who come to join us. But in a clear-cut case like this one, there is no need for a second perspective.

This was murder: the random murder of a stranger. In all cultures, this is wrong.

Many Canadians believe strongly in causes that are important to them. But most of us could not even imagine planning and executing this kind of event. If the people who pose this particular risk could be identified early enough, we would prefer to help them. Up here in the True North, we want all our neighbors to be strong and free. If you need extra help, we want you to have it.

But the fact is that some of the people who walk among us are damaged: by genetics, by circumstance, or even by their own choices.

Canadians are outraged and disgusted at this attack from within, but we also believe it’s important to temper our reactions. And a key part of that reaction is deciding how we discuss these incidents at all.

First, we really should stop referring to people like this one as “the shooter” or “the gunman.” To identify a person by such a dramatic action makes him sound too much like a protagonist, like someone making a contribution to our human story. That perspective is not serving any of us.

In fact, we could stop referring to these people by name at all. Let’s limit ourselves to general vital statistics instead: Gender, age, and outcome of the event. In the case of the recent tragedy at Parliament Hill: Male, 32, dead at scene.

We could even drop our famed preference for tolerance altogether and instead say: the cowardly loser. The pathetic jerk. I am not the first person to suggest this. These terms have the advantage of being clearly non-neutral, and also strip the recipient of any pretensions to grandeur or relevance. Of course there was another side to his story. But I don’t care what it was. Do you?

The next time something like this happens, as it’s bound to do, I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to hear from his childhood friends. I don’t want to visit his Facebook page. I certainly don’t want his horrified parents and church leaders to have to go into hiding. Let him disappear, nameless, into prison or into the ground.

Any deranged fool with a firearm can walk into anywhere and create damage. It is not heroic and for most of us, there is nothing to learn by exploring the fool’s point of view. Also, it quickly ends in death: maybe innocent people first, but nearly always the instigator himself, before the dust has settled on the scene.

Canadians are already engaged in serious debate about how and when to act on the world stage. We volunteer for the causes that matter to us, including political causes at home and abroad. We have friends and neighbors from around the world that make international concerns real to us. And most of us are determined to be the best people that we can.

This moderate approach may not be as sexy as the gunfight at the OK Corral (which by the way, was over in about half a minute) but it has staying power and it has allowed us to build an integrated society that we can rightly be proud of.

So let’s not let the occasional sad wacko with a self-excusing agenda and an inflated sense of his place in history change how we feel about ourselves or our safety.

Canada is ours, glorious and free. We will not lock that away.

Published in Globe & Mail

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