Letter from the Sub-Editor: Canada is seen as a peaceful nation, but violent crime isn’t as rare as you might think


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Seeing a nation’s capital locked down because of gunmen on the loose might not have been so surprising if it had occurred in, say, Washington.

But watching such an attack in Canada, my homeland, is shocking. The country isn’t often associated with dramatic events, especially by the British. Canada is perceived as a peaceful nation, usually overshadowed by the focus on its bigger brother to the south.

Even though yesterday’s attack took terror in Canada to another level, violent crime there isn’t as rare as many people suspect. When I first moved to London 11 years ago, I was surprised to learn about the lack of guns in Britain and the relative rarity of crimes  committed with them. It still strikes me as odd that the British police aren’t armed when they patrol the streets.

There are certainly fewer guns and fatal shootings in Canada than south of the border: the US has an estimated 270 million firearms, or 89 per 100 people. Canada has 10m guns, or 31 per 100 residents.

But even in Canada’s smaller cities there are often convenience-store hold-ups, bank robberies and muggings with guns. As a journalist there I covered shootings on a regular basis. Just a few months ago, a gunman shot dead three police officers in the largely rural, sleepy province of New Brunswick.

In his 2002 film Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore depicts the relative safety of America’s neighbour by crossing the border and knocking on unlocked doors. That might have been true when I was growing up in rural Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, but has long since changed.