Radicalization, the Loss of Canadian Innocence and the Need for Perspective

With the two killings this week of Canadian soldiers, one by Martin Couture-Rouleau’s running over soldiers in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the other by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and his the attack on the War Memorial and Parliament Hill.

Surreal morning for me as I was downtown for meetings, about 8 blocks away from the Hill, learning about the shootings from TV monitors, along with others glued to TV monitors following developments. Felt very much, albeit on a much smaller scale, when I was in LA during the 911 attacks.

Some common points in recent commentary.

A note of caution on over-reacting and the need to maintain balance between freedom, access, and security. John Ivison: In response to Quebec terror attack we must remember a healthy balance between security and freedom, a point echoed by Andrew Coyne in Andrew Coyne: We can’t stop every little terror attack, so let’s brace ourselves and adapt where he recommends, not “a panicky search for false assurances, nor even defiance, but a collective insouciance.” Martin Regg Cohn praises the Ontario political leaders for keeping to the normal Parliamentary schedule in The democratic show must go on: Cohn.

While there was universal praise, and deservedly so, for Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, both for his quick and efficient handling of the attack as well as his philosophy of keeping Parliament a public space, Michael Den Tandt savages the overall handling of the attack in Michael Den Tandt: Ottawa shooting shows Canadian capital’s utter lack of readiness, and how information was not communicated. Haroon Siddiqui makes similar, but less well argued points, in Killings of two soldiers raise troubling questions: Siddiqui.

Margaret Wente takes the opposite tack, in an almost boosterish tone, contrary to much of the reporting, argues that Canadians will not change and that the attack was handled calmly and without hysteria in  Terrorists don’t have a chance in this country. Joe Warmington of The Toronto Sun takes the opposite tack in Canada will never be the same, as does Ian MacLeod in The Ottawa Citizen, in Analysis: Effects on Ottawa will be lasting and far-reaching (with video).

Also in the Post, which generally has some of the strongest reporting in this area, Tom Blackwell, their health reporter, reports on the “lone wolf” phenomenon and some of the factors that may result in some being open to radicalization in ‘Rhetoric and bluster’: Was attack on soldiers really terrorism, or just the violent act of a disturbed man? The Globe has a good profile on Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the War Memorial and Parliament Hill in Suspected killer in Ottawa shootings had a disturbing side, that reinforces some of these points.

From La Presse, a report on the local mosque in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and what appears to be a very conservative Imam in terms of social teachings but no indication that he preached violence, or whether Couture-Rouleau went to the mosque regularly (seems he was most active on social media) in Un imam controversé à Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

Listening to the RCMP outline what they did and what they could do, particularly in the case of Couture-Rouleau (as of writing not as fulsome an account for Zehaf-Bibeau) hard to see that any of the Government’s recent or planned initiatives would have made a difference. The RCMP monitored him, spoke to friends and families who shared their well-founded worries, confiscated his passport but as the RCMP officer at the press conference said, “We couldn’t arrest someone for having radical thoughts, it’s not a crime in Canada.”

Couture-Rouleau, like Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, were both born in Canada. Couture-Rouleau was not a dual-national and would not be subject, had he lived, for citizenship revocation. It is unclear whether Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, given his father was Libyan in origin, would be entitled to Libyan citizenship and thus theoretically subject to revocation.

And while tragedies for the families and friends of the soldiers killed, and (another) reminder that we have extremists among us, both reassuring and worrying that both of these appear to be “lone wolf” attacks rather than groups and more “sophisticated” plans and conspiracies that could result in significantly more casualities.

I tend to be between Wente and Warmington: no, not everything has changed but neither has everything remained the same. Our political leaders, of all stripes, as well as the media and others, will play a role in ensuring, or not, that we retain perspective and balance.

 

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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