Reflecting on the Ottawa Attacks | By Graeme Archibald

 

On Wednesday morning, I woke up a bit hungover from some grad school festivities the night before. I was getting ready to go to my economics class, casually perusing Twitter when I saw something that made my heart sink.

“Soldier shot at National War Memorial.”

Before I could read further, Globe and Mail reporter Josh Wingrove made the following series of tweets:

It is hard to describe the feeling that comes with seeing news such as this. At that very moment, our Parliament was under attack. There is shock, horror and fear. All I knew at that moment was that our capital was under attack. It was then I realized that I could hear sirens wailing in the distance.

On my tenth birthday, I awoke expecting to celebrate my birthday (and unfortunately go to school, as it was a Tuesday). Instead, I stood in front of the TV and watched as the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed into a cloud of dust that swallowed Lower Manhattan.

As horrific as 9/11 was, it was far away from me. Every horrific terrorist attack since that fateful day has also been far away from me. On Wednesday, I could see the skyline of Downtown Ottawa from the window of my apartment. I may not have been right there, but the feeling of being in the city where such events are unfolding was surreal. It was unnerving. It was chilling.

Wednesday was not Canada’s 9/11. This was not the first terrorist incident to happen in Canada, and it will likely not be the last. It was an act of cowardice, committed by an isolated and likely mentally ill individual who turned to a destructive, hateful ideology that has no place in civilized society. This individual struck out at two of Canada’s most sacred sites, the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill. The attack came just days after Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent succumbed to his injuries after being run down by a similarly radicalized individual in Quebec. Let’s be clear – this was terrorism. Too many people assume that if the perpetrator is not directly associated with a terrorist group, it is not terrorism. The perpetrator may have been suffering from a mental illness in this case, but that does not make it any less of a terrorist action. It was an ideologically-motivated attack on our government and military, and as soon as ideology enters the picture, it becomes terrorism.

The National War Memorial is a place of remembrance for the over 110,000 Canadians who have given their lives in conflicts overseas so that we could enjoy the Canada we have now. It is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a site that embodies that sacrifice. It is at this hallowed ground that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, an unarmed, ceremonial honour guard, was fatally gunned down. To commit such a vile act is an affront to everything that Canadians stand for.

Our Parliament is unique amongst world capitals in that it is open and accessible to Canadians. You can wander around the grounds, amidst protesters and yoga practitioners. You can, fairly easily, enter the Parliament buildings themselves, and attend sessions of the House of Commons. It is this openness that is integral to our democracy. It is this openness that was taken advantage of by a crazed gunman.

Despite this dark day for our country, we can take solace in the heroism that was displayed by the people of Ottawa and our first responders. The onlookers who valiantly cared for the dying corporal, attempting resuscitation until the last possible moment. The Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers, who shot and killed the attacker as he marched through the halls of the Centre Block, with hundreds of MPs sitting in caucus only metres away. The members of the House of Commons security, the RCMP and the Ottawa Police Service who took action immediately and ensured the safety of those in and around Parliament.

After tragic events like this, everyone wonders what tomorrow will bring – what will the ‘changed’ Canada look like? There are many columnists today criticizing the lax security of Parliament Hill, and many in both the media and government have commented that Parliament will forever be changed by Wednesday’s attack.

Do we have to change? Maybe. Maybe not. We should not be enveloped in fear by the actions of an individual, who at this point appears to have been acting alone. For the most part, our immediate security apparatus worked – yes, the gunman was able to get much deeper into the Centre Block than he should have, but he was stopped with minimal injuries to parliamentary staff. The tragedy of Cpl. Cirillo’s murder is that that was nothing that could have been reasonably done to prevent it, nor that of Warrant Officer Vincent.

In the aftermath of events such as this, we are left to reflect on who we are as a country, and what we value as a society. Procedures will change. Security around the parliamentary precinct will be increased. However, I hope that in the coming days Canadians will reaffirm what we stand for. I hope that we do not grow to fear or be suspicious of our neighbours. I hope that Parliament Hill will reopen to the public, with added security measures, to be enjoyed as an accessible place. I hope that the honour guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will resume, with its guards standing proud and free of fear. As a new resident of Ottawa, I feel this city’s pain, but I am confident that it will persevere and come out of this as a changed, yet stronger city.

We are a country that values peace, openness and acceptance. Let’s not allow actions of one man to change all of that.

 

Image courtesy of Sandro Lacarbona on Flickr

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