Ottawa shooting: Canada’s innocence is not lost — unless we want it to be

Our values are about to be tested

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The Independent Online

The National War Memorial in Ottawa’s Confederation Square stands tall as a symbol of Canadians’ sacrifice “in the cause of peace and freedom.” Wednesday, it lurked as the backdrop for one of the country’s most troubling and senseless murders.

Yes, these are troubling (and, often, senseless) times. The attack that killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo has Canadians wondering if we, too, now find ourselves irreversibly at war with a menacing, global, and ever-changing “terrorist threat.” It reaffirmed the danger of the “lone wolves” known in London and in Boston and in cities around the world. It might even have made us afraid.

But if it was an attack, as the Prime Minister said, “on our values” (remember: we don’t yet know the murderer’s motives), those values are about to be tested.

Should our public spaces suddenly shrivel from view, barricaded behind security fences and marred by metal detectors?

No. Our parks, our playgrounds, and, yes, our Parliament should remain places to come together: to play, to protest, to defy fear. Commentator Andrew Coyne said it best when he urged Canadians   to gather on Parliament Hill “to claim it, to protect it, and to say a giant fuck you to the people who did this.”

Should one community be cast into villainy? One complex ideology reduced to violence and hate? No. Islamophobia has already isolated too many Canadians. In 2013, Quebec’s government proposed a Charter of Values that prohibited public employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious garments like hijabs. Anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after it was presented, community groups said. Neighbors told neighbors to leave the country. A mosque was splattered with pig’s blood. 69 percent of Quebeckers held an unfavourable opinion of Islam (54 per cent in the rest of Canada), and nearly half said they would find it unacceptable if their child married a Muslim.

Wednesday’s shooter, a Muslim convert, is from Quebec. Instead, the Ottawa Police presented us with a truly Canadian solution: inclusiveness. Instead of targeting Muslims, the police reached out to Muslim community leaders and asked them if they felt unsafe.

Ok, fine. Keep public spaces public and don’t target Muslims. But what about the biggest Canadian characteristic under threat: "our innocence”? No. Canadians aren’t innocent. In 1970, Quebec separatists killed a provincial minister. In 1989, a murderous anti-feminist shot up a school and killed 14 students. One hundred and fifty-eight Canadian soldiers have died fighting in Afghanistan.

We have sacrificed. We have scars. But, more importantly, we have values. Inclusion. Equality. Peace. Perhaps that is what is being mistaken for innocence. In the aftermath of this tragedy, it will be tempting to wage a war — whether literal or figurativ e— on “our” undefined enemy: “them.”

“We will not be intimidated,” the Prime Minister said. We will “take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe” from “those at home or abroad who wish to harm us.”

So, no, Canada’s perceived innocence is not lost — unless we want it to be. We could wage indefinite war against “those at home or abroad who wish to harm us”— casting suspicious glances at people in the park, targeting mosques for surveillance — or we could come together to protect our values, to claim them as our own, to say a giant fuck you to those who want to divide us. We can continue to isolate members of our society — leaving them vulnerable to cooption into radical groups — or we can include them (economically, socially, ideologically) in building a better country.

The glory of war and the simplicity of dichotomous combat embodied by the memorial where Cpl. Nathan Cirillo gave his life no longer exist. Our battle “in the cause of peace and freedom”—our own Great War — is far more complex. If we protect our values, we win.