Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thoughts on yesterday's events in Ottawa

The National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa is a bit of a focal point of the city, marking the intersection between Wellington, Rideau, and Elgin streets. Around the plaza you can find the trappings of Official Ottawa like the Langevin Block and the British High Commission, but also the things that make Ottawa a great city in which to live or to visit, such as the historic Château Laurier, the National Arts Centre, or D'Arcy McGee's, one of Ottawa's many (many) pubs.

On most days, the open space around the War Memorial is full of pedestrians going about their days. For the last seven years, the War Memorial has also been stoically and silently guarded by members of Canada's armed forces, who have been popular photo subjects for the many tourists from throughout Canada and the world who visit the capital.

Yesterday, that peaceful heart of the city, where the unidentified remains of a Canadian soldier who fought and died in the First World War are buried, was the scene of a horrific crime committed by a coward who deserves to be forgotten.

My thoughts this morning are with the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo's family and friends. This young man tragically lost his life performing a duty symbolizing the respect Canadians have for the sacrifices of those who fought to defend this country. He was ceremoniously carrying a rifle that could not fire. He was defenseless.

My thoughts are also with the security forces on Parliament Hill who bravely ran towards the sound of gunfire and prevented what could have been a tragedy of even larger proportions.

I've lived in Ottawa for several years now, and have lived the vast majority of my life within a short distance of the capital. The War Memorial is less than a 10 minute drive or 40 minute walk from my home where I am writing this morning. I pass by it regularly and in the last month I've twice walked the halls of Parliament where the final shots were fired yesterday. Throughout the day, I could hear sounds of sirens.

Contrary to some opinion, as a resident of Ottawa I don't wake up this morning terrified, scared, or even angry. This city remains one of the safest in the world - nothing can be done to prevent the actions of a lone monster. We are fortunate to live in a country like ours, where someone like me can make a living writing about something, in the grand scheme of things, as inconsequential as polls. Unlike in other parts of the world, I can write about a poll that casts the government in a negative light without fear of being arrested or abused because we live in a free, democratic society.

I am saddened, however, and reminded of the enormous gratitude I have for the men and women of our armed forces.

My grandfather served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War and made a career for himself in the Royal Canadian Air Force after the conflict ended. He passed away last year and was buried in Ottawa's Beechwood Cemetery beside other former members of Canada's armed forces. 

During the funeral, I was moved by the respect my grandfather was shown by an honour guard formed of members of the army and air force. By the time of his death, he had not served for decades but he was treated as solemnly and respectfully as a soldier who had lost his life on the battlefield. 

While the ceremony itself was something I'll never forget, what sticks in my mind when I think of that day is what I saw after the service was over. As we were leaving the cemetery, I noticed a woman in uniform waiting at a bus stop. She had been one of the members of the honour guard. She had donned her pristine uniform and rode the bus to the cemetery to pay respect to a man she had never met and who had likely retired from the air force before she had even been born. She probably spent more time in transit than she had at the service itself.

It was a small sacrifice on her part, of course, but emblematic of the respect our men and women in uniform show for those who came before them and the sacrifices they were willing - or had - to make. Men like Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who died guarding the tomb of a soldier who lost his own life almost a century before in the service of his country. That, and not any feeling of being terrorized, is what I am thinking about today. And I am not alone.


  1. Aside from the extreme tragedy here I feel I have to compliment Canadian media on their performance. The two main TV media, CBC and CTV, where simply exemplary. Everything got dropped so they could cover. Thank You !!

    1. I have to disagree. First of all, these sorts of tragic crimes are among the easiest to report. I don't in any way mean to minimise the sense of horror, or sadness or loss – all the feelings people are having about this - but everyone agrees it was a horrible event and would like to see some kind of justice done. And that's about as much as the mainstream media manage. For the big networks, investigative reporting is a virtually a myth - with notable exceptions. So, why was it a US and not a Canadian network that broke the story of the identity of the killer? Why have none of the news outlets asked the important questions that should immediately arise:

      How did two individuals with known mental health problems or criminal convictions acquire and keep guns? Why, when family members of Martin Couture-Rouleau actively sought help from authorities because they were worried about his potential for violence, did authorities do nothing? Shouldn't the federal and provincial governments be doing more to deal with mental illness, rather than defunding the institutions and programmes dedicated to identifying, treating, and - if necessary - incarcerating those with mental illness? Don't CSIS and Canada's other security agencies already have powers beyond what is constitutional or effective in dealing with genuine threats to the country? Do we really need to give up more freedoms so that the government can slyly allege that crimes committed by the mentally ill are, in fact, attacks on the nation from foreign powers? Is it rational, constructive, and appropriate to agitate for military action in foreign countries that have no involvement whatsoever in these two domestic murders? In fact, isn't that probably the most destructive and perilous response?

      But the mainstream media are not interested in coming to grips with these sorts of events, instead, they look for a way to fit the story into an pre-existing paradigm, in this case, supporting and military adventurism. The first breaking news headline from Global yesterday was “Canada under attack”. That was irresponsible and dangerous when no information had yet been received about the identity of the perpetrator(s) or the scale of the shooting. By now, that characterisation has clouded the vast majority of the reporting, discussion and responses to the events, making any rational analysis or policy proposal much more difficult. Again, these sorts of events demand a measured response, not an appeal to emotions and hyperbole. I worry about the fates of Canadian Muslims (and those, like Sikhs, who will be mistaken for Muslims) in the coming days and months, because the flames of racist hysteria – already fanned by the news media – will likely only get worse; and I worry about the people of the Middle East, as Harper so blatantly uses this as a pretext to defend and extend his military operations in that region. I’d also like to see this self-styled supporter of the military do something about paying our military decent salaries and providing the necessary medical and psychological care they need, but he’s committed to the religion of budget cuts.

    2. "Incarceration" has not been a standard method of practice for treating mental illness for over two decades except in extreme circumstances, such as a suicide attempt or an act of violence. Instead practice has moved toward community integration and individual living with supports. There are many reasons for the change the safety of nurses and medical staff being a major concern. The lack of "progress" shown by incarcerated or institutionalised patients being another major concern-once a patient became institutionalised, they rarely left and they rarely got better.

      It is also important to remember that dark thoughts or violent thoughts are not a crime. It is only when thoughts are turned into plans that a crime may be committed. It is a fine line one that juxtaposes individual and societal rights.

      I would like to assure you Chimurenga, that CSIS acts within the constitution and its powers are constitutional. The Security Intelligence Review Committee, composed of civilians, monitor and reviews CSIS' activities to ensure they abide by the law. formerly such NDP luminaries as; the Honourable Rosemary Brown, The Honourable BoB Rae and the Honourable Roy Romanow have served on SIRC. I believe Phillippe Couillard P.C., M.N.A. is currently a member. I would never claim the system is perfect but, considering the lack of coups d'états in Canada I believe it is mostly effective.

    3. Thank you for the insightful comment, chimurenga.

      Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. A mentally ill person kills a man. This was not by itself an unusual event. The only thing unusual is that this happened close to the centre of government. It was bound to happen eventually, statistically speaking...

      This is a tragedy for the officer who was killed and his family, but it's not an important national event.

    4. Chim blaming the
      media is like shooting the firemen. The media has a job and a responsibility and in this particular case there is NO political gain to be made. Tragedy is tragedy and we don't like to see it "SPUN" !!

    5. Bede, the incarceration I was referring to was exactly for the cases of criminally ill or the worst cases of schizophrenia, psychopathology, personality disorder, etc. I certainly wasn't suggesting incarceration as a reasonable response to any other kind of mental illness. Which is why I said, "if necessary". Long term prognosis is not good for such people because these illnesses are immune to talk therapy and resistant to pharmaceutical therapies. The point here is that both of these killers had warning flags, but were not being monitored.

      As for CSIS, etc.... you've outlined the system as it is meant to function, but as we know from Maher Arar, et al and particularly from Edward Snowdon, the Constitution is substantially ignored when it suits them. So, unfortunately, I don't derive any comfort from your comment.

      Peter, I'm not speaking from political partisanship. The media have a job to do, and in key respects they failed, as they almost always fail with shootings of any kind. The reasons for these failures need to be identified and media practice needs to be corrected. To take your metaphor, if firefighters arrive at a fire and turn their hoses on another building entirely, they need to be criticised - not because one has it in for firefighters, but because one wants them to improve so that destruction is lessened the next time. When the media leapt to blaming Islamic terrorism for the Oklahoma City bombing, there instantly followed dozens of incidents of racist violence against Muslim Americans (and those who were mistaken for Muslim Americans)… and even when the real perpetrators were revealed, the damage had already been done – in the context of irrationality following such a crime Muslims continued to be victimised. So, the fact that the two killings this week were not committed by ISIS or Al Qaeda or whatever organisation already has been sufficiently obscured that the deaths of the two soldiers are still being used as a pretext to support our military operations in Iraq and Syria, with outcomes that can only be guessed at but that aren’t encouraging. The media share responsibility for that.

      As for CSIS, etc.... you've outlined the system as it is meant to function, but as we know from Maher Arar, et al and particularly from Edward Snowdon, the Constitution is substantially ignored when it suits them. So, unfortunately, I don't derive any comfort from your comment.

    6. Given the sheer number of hours and the loss of revenue the media did a superb job. Drop the hyper nonsense.

    7. As far as media analysis, I think this one is pretty good (but it comes from the US, not Canada):

      "the most obvious, urgent connection we need to see is that both these guys had tried their best to get out of Canada, and were refused the chance to go to fight in Syria/Iraq. Both had their passports seized, and were “counselled” to dissuade them from jihad. Instead, it simply made them consider the local option."

    8. If they had left Canada and survived the conflict in Syria/Iraq they would have returned to Canada as trained jihadist fighters. Such an outcome would have been far more dangerous. If the mad jihadi who ran over W.O. Vincent had guerilla/military training he could have turned his car into a car bomb resulting in many more casualties. If Zehaf-Bibeau had been trained he may well have worn a suicide vest on Wednesday with far greater loss of life.

      To allow these wannabe jihadis to leave Canada is to export our problems to another country. We may save a Canadian life but, it will come at the expense of the life or injury toward an innocent foreigner.

  2. thank you for putting the focus on the proper place

  3. Excellent commentary and analysis. This cowardly monster should not detract from the pride we feel in honouring our brave men and women who defend and protect us. My biggest regret is that Ottawa, one of the world's finest and safest capital cities, will be forever changed (e.g. more fortified in the Parliamentary Precinct) as a result.

  4. Linda McQuaig has a very thoughtful and helpful article in iPolitics today about our responses to these events.

  5. And Éric, I support your tribute to the military, police and others who conducted themselves so well during the shooting yesterday - and to their more general sense of public duty. I'd add that it's vitally important to honestly try to understand why these sorts of events occur - something both politicians and journalists have been particularly bad at even outlining...

  6. I have to say I was not happy with the media yesterday. I saw a number of incidents on T.V. where journalists prevented or hampered the police and emergency personnel doing their jobs. Repeatedly reporters were asked to "move back" their response was less than satisfactory in my opinion. I am all for a free press but, I don't think journalists have an unfettered right to video the lasts breaths of an injured soldier and I don't believe such video improves or enhances our understanding of yesterday's events.

    I recognise that in the midst of chaos it can be difficult to do the right thing either because one is paralysed with fear or literally does not know what to do but, I hope yesterday will serve as a catalyst for news organisations to think about their presence in emergency situations. A human life is more important than a news organisation getting a "scoop" or "exclusive story". I would like to see news organisations pay more respect to the emergency services and the families of victims.

  7. Do all try to remember a couple of very important facts !!

    ALL Security/Police services want ONE thing as a major point. SECRECY !! They do everything they possibly can to prevent the public learning anything about what they are doing. That means blocking the media in particular from finding out anything and that is essential in their view.

    So sure the media all know this and thus try as hard as possible to get the facts and images out to the public. Because that is the media's job!! INFORMATION.

  8. A non-scientific poll on the Calgary Sun's website may give us some foresight as to the outcome of tomorrow's Alberta by-elections.

    Q: How many seats will the PCs win?


    It is remarkable that two thirds of Sun readers think the PCs will win 2 seats or less out of 4. Of course this is not a scientific poll so one should not read to much into it.

    I think the PCs will win all 4. Perhaps Redford's old riding of Calgary Elbow will buck the trend and vote Wildrose but, I think this well heeled neighbourhood appreciates having access to the corridors of power. Mandel is strangely popular in Edmonton and Prentice has momentum if polls are to be believed.


COMMENT MODERATION POLICY - Please be respectful when commenting. If choosing to remain anonymous, please sign your comment with some sort of pseudonym to avoid confusion. Please do not use any derogatory terms for fellow commenters, parties, or politicians. Inflammatory and overly partisan comments will not be posted. PLEASE KEEP DISCUSSION ON TOPIC.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.