The world changed for Canadians on Oct. 22.
Some say it is our 9/11. Others have shied away from that comparison. Regardless, the shootings at Parliament Hill that temporarily ripped Ottawa apart have made us ponder our own safety within our country. It has also begged of us larger questions about who we are as a people.
Perhaps the most troubling observation is one that strikes at Canada’s character: do the events in Ottawa mean that we have lost our innocence as a nation? It would be incorrect to make that assertion. Rather, the events in Ottawa have demonstrated, once and for all, who we are as Canadians. It has also demonstrated the sort of political courage that we need in the upcoming days and months.
Much has been written about the individual acts of courage on that fateful day. From Sgt. Vickers’ courageous takedown of the suspect to the valiant first responders, Canada showed that its resolve is very much fitting of the sacrifice made by the fallen soldier, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.
Beyond this, Canadians should take pride in the behaviour of our politicians — an unfamiliar feeling, perhaps. On the day after the attacks, Prime Minister Harper hugged Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. Both opposition leaders pledged support to the Prime Minister as he navigates us through the difficult days ahead.
We often hear all of the negative stories out of Ottawa — the scandals, the lack of faith in our leaders, the incompetence. But in the aftermath of these brutal attacks, Canadians should only take pride in the fact that our leaders set aside their differences and did what needed to be done in the heat of the moment. We should all do well to remember this when we feel that our politicians betray our interests. On the contrary, they care deeply for our nation and its people. To this end, it is perfectly clear that our stable system of government, a key feature of Canada’s culture, worked for Canadians.
This is not to say that, going forward, there will be easy days and political agreement. Canada now has a fundamental choice to make about how it will honour the memory of Cpl. Cirillo and the other victims of terrorism on our soil. Make no mistake—these attacks were deliberate, intentional, and malicious. They struck at the heart of our democracy. We should not shy away from the difficult decisions that need to be made.
Prime Minister Harper, in the immediate days after the attack, pledged to increase security measures and to bolster Canada’s efforts to combat terrorism at home and abroad. While we do not know the scope of the changes planned, these measures will not be without controversy. Indeed, some commentators have already imported that time-tested American political point: are we to give up our freedoms, our democracy, our very way of living, to feel a little bit more secure? Isn’t this what the terrorists want?
The case is not so dramatic. What the terrorists want is to weaken our resolve. They want to strike fear in the hearts of Canadians, so that when we are going to work, or in our homes at night, we will worry about whether or not we are safe.
So, what does Canada do when faced by a bully? We hit back, twice as hard.
This should not be taken to be a callous and base determination of our way forward. There will need to be a complex balance between our freedoms and the new security measures, whatever they will be. One need not come at the expense of the other, as our American friends state the case. However, we should be amply skeptical of those who claim that any additional efforts to make Canadians feel safer in their communities is a grant of our freedom to the government. This is not a zero-sum game. If it is so easy for armed men to storm our house of government, clearly, we need to take a step back and look at the concrete, practical security measures that need to be taken to ensure that such a heinous act will never happen again. If it is the case that a young man can die by standing in the middle of Ottawa, on guard for our country, our citizens are simply not secure. So, we need to step up to the challenge, as we always have.
And so, we come to the problem. Those who say that this attack is a chance for us to define who we are as Canadians are incorrect. We know who we are. Canada stood up at Vimy Ridge for our values. We stood up at Normandy against a bully of another sort. We fought a nebulous and brutal enemy in Afghanistan. Now, we must do the same again.
In the near future, we will be called to make some tough political choices. In making those choices, we should remember that Canada has never before backed down from a bully. Why start now?