Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday Morning

H/t Toronto Star

The events of yesterday were undeniably tragic. A young man, Nathan Cirillo, died. As I noticed on a Facebook posting by my cousin's wife, Nathan was a friend of their son with whom he played organized hockey. Six degrees of separation and all that, I guess.

Nonetheless, I have to confess that when I heard the news on CBC radio, my first thoughts were twofold: how these events could work to Harper's electoral advantage (I could immediately envisage the attack ads juxtaposing Harper's "strong leadership and stand against terrorism" against Trudeau's talk about searching for the "root causes" of terrorism), and how this could very well provide a pretext for further erosion of our civil liberties. Like frightened mice, many people aid and abet anyone or anything to ensure the comforting illusion of security.

Fortunately, I found a measure of balance in two Star columnists this morning, Martin Regg Cohn and Thomas Walkom.

Cohn's words bring some much-needed perspective to terrorism:
For terrorists, killing people is merely a means to an end. By far the bigger objective for terrorists is to terrorize — not just their immediate victims, but an entire population.

A soldier lost his life Wednesday. And parliamentarians lost their innocence.

But the nation must not lose its nerve.

Public shootouts or bombings are carefully choreographed publicity stunts that require audience participation to succeed: If the public gives in to fear, and the state succumbs to hysteria, then the shootings or bombings have hit their mark. If the audience tunes out the sickening violence, the tragic melodrama is reduced to pointlessness.
And he quickly gets to what, for me, is the heart of the matter:
The risk is that we will overreact with security clampdowns and lockdowns that are difficult to roll back when the threat subsides.

Terrorists will never be an existential threat — our Parliament and our parliamentarians are too deeply rooted to crumble in the face of a few bullets or bombs. The greater risk is that we will hunker down with over-the-top security precautions that pose a more insidious menace to our open society.

Thomas Walkom, while acknowledging that events such as yesterday's have a very unsettling effect, reminds us that Canada is not exactly in virgin territory here:
In 1966, a Toronto man blew himself up in a washroom just outside the Commons chamber. He had been preparing to take out the entire government front bench with dynamite. But it exploded too early.

Other legislatures have had their share of trouble, most notably Quebec’s national assembly, which was attacked in 1984 by a disgruntled Canadian Forces corporal.

He shot and killed three as well as wounding another 13 before giving himself up.

In 1988, another man was shot after he opened fire with a rifle in the Alberta Legislature building.
And no one who is of a certain age can ever forget the FLQ crisis of 1970 which led to Pierre Trudeau imposing The War Measures Act, which effectively suspended civil liberties across the country, a measure that was widely embraced at the time.

Walkom ends his piece on an appropriately ominous note:
We seem headed for another of those moments of panic. The fact that the gunman attacked Parliament has, understandably, spooked the MPs who pass our laws.

It has also spooked the media and, I suspect, much of the country.

The government wants to give its security agencies more power over citizens. The government wants to rally public support for its war in Iraq.

On both counts, this attack can only help it along.
If we are not very careful and vigilant, the real threat will come, not from terrorist attacks, but from our putative political leaders.


  1. Denis Lortie did not give himself up without help — he was talked down by a very brave Sergeant-at-Arms René Jalbert.

    1. Thank you for that important reminder/clarification, Moira.

  2. "If we are not very careful and vigilant, the real threat will come, not from terrorist attacks, but from our putative political leaders. So true.

    Harper brought it on Canadians by participating in Iraq war. Chretien made the right decision when he refused to participate in Iraq war.

    Very sad that an innocent man Nathan Cirillo was lost his life.

    1. it is very sad, LD, and also an object lesson that, as much as we don't like to admit it, some very bad things can happen at any time. The folly, as seen in Harper's impotent fight against ISIS, is to believe otherwise.

  3. I found the line that "parliamentarians lost their innocence" a bit rich.

    1. A bit of MSM hyperbole, I suspect, Mound, the writer thought fit nicely with his essay.

  4. I guess we think an awful lot of politicians. After Mayerthorpe no one in government was pressing for stronger gun laws or improved mental healthcare.
    I would be curious to see if someone ran the numbers on shootings pre and post-closure of mental institutions across the country.
    When I hear of these unfortunate events I think of a person left behind by society.

    1. Unfortunately, Anon, that those kinds of considerations do not fit into the government narrative that will be used to further diminish our civil liberties. The Mound of Sound has a video of Russell Brand dissecting the situation, and he even alludes to the Mayerthorpe shootings. You can check it out here:

    2. Thanks for the link! I just hope people will look more critically at the situation and the motives of those who are attempting to have their ends met by this incident. Wrapping oneself in the flag while trammeling the rights of fellow citizens is disgusting. I see they want to jail people who write bad things on the internet. That could easily spread to jailing those who disagree with the direction of this country. Informative writing by the way!

    3. You're welcome, Anon, and I agree this is indeed a slippery slope.