This image from today’s Halifax Chronicle Herald captures how I and many Canadians are feeling today. In the four days since I posted a picture of my visit to the Ottawa War Memorial, there have been two attacks on Canadian Armed Forces personnel. On Monday a Regular Force RCAF Warrant Officer was killed in a Montreal parking lot by a by would be jihadist who mowed him down with his car, and yesterday an Army Reservist was shot and mortally wounded while part of the ceremonial guard mount at one of our country’s most honoured (and, in a secular sense of the word) sacred places. The gunman then went on to Parliament Hill, and in a video that I still find surreal, died in a gun battle, shot by our Parliament’s Sergeant of Arms, an ex-RCMP officer, who is today an undisputed national hero.
What to make of this? It’s too early to say, but members of the Canadian Armed Forces, still enjoying the public approval from their role in Afghanistan, will be struggling (as I am) with the perceived loss of pride and identity in being told not to wear their uniforms in public. Hopefully that order will be lifted by Remembrance Day, and we can pay our respects to the old and newly fallen as we should, but we now have to think about security issues in our own country. In that sense, while there is some in his piece yesterday that I disagree with, journalist Glenn Greenwald does make a good point. Canada has been at war for thirteen years, ever since our troops first went to Tora Bora in Afghanistan, and while we’ve refurbished our military prestige and pride following the dark years and moral failures of the 1990s, we have been complacent. We never thought that our enemies would strike us here. We assumed that either we were too small to be an important target to Bin Laden and his followers, or that if homegrown extremists tried, then our security services would catch them, because they all seemed pretty inept. Now, in three days, we can’t afford those misguided assumptions.
I hope we don’t slide into a security state mentality like our southern neighbours have. Their post 9/11 habit of replacing that lovely and historic word of liberty, “America”, with “Homeland”, which to my mind hearkens back to 19th century European “blood and volk" nationalism, is unfortunate, but that’s just my opinion. I hope that Parliament will reopen to visitors soon, although I suspect that visitors will have to go through metal detectors and other security measures. It’s still our Parliament, and should remain so. The National War Memorial will take on a new significance, to be sure, and there will be new resolve to fight against ISIS and forces like it, even if it’s still unclear whether these attacks of the last tree days were jihadist ordered, jihadist inspired, or just copycat violence by mentally fragile and angry loners. As a former Commanding Officer of mine said yesterday, if we were complacent and ambiguous about the Syria deployment last week, now Canadians will be resolved, and military history shows that when we are angry, we punch above our weight.
The most encouraging thing for me yesterday was hearing that the Ottawa Police, with parts of the capital still in lockdown, sent this message out to the city’s Muslim community. If you feel unsafe, or threatened, let us know and we’ll protect you. If that virtue of Canadian solidarity and tolerance makes it through the days to come unscathed, then we’ll be alright.
God bless and protect all those who serve and protect our country, whatever uniform they wear.