At certain times, we need to remind ourselves of truths that we tend to ignore when things are routine. This is one of those times.
We are a peaceful, tolerant, free society. The horrific violence on Toronto’s Yonge Street will strengthen rather than undermine these truths.
As the stories come out − we’ve already seen the pictures and video of the people who rushed to help the fallen, of the police officer who faced down the suspect rather than shooting him − we will remember that violence against the innocent brings out the best in Canadians, not the worst.
Bonds of trust are fraying in the United States and much of Europe. Every tragedy becomes political. Each side points to the dead and cries: “See? You’re to blame for this! Your side let this happen.”
We don’t do that here.
Whatever the possible motives of Alek Minassian, the person accused of committing this crime, conservatives will not blame progressives, nor progressives, conservatives. A few cranks may call for walls and limits and tests, for reining in a particular freedom, for the closing of doors.
But the great majority will ignore their rage rants. That’s not who we are.
We do not know why this happened. What we do know is someone drove a rented van down a stretch of road and sidewalk in North York, striking pedestrians. The number of dead and injured makes it one of the worst mass attacks by a single assailant in our country’s history. But there are tragic precedents: the shooting of Muslim worshippers at the mosque in Quebec City last year; the shooting of students, especially women, at École Polytechnique in 1989; Dawson College, 2006; La Loche, 2016 and more.
This attack appears in these early hours to have been indiscriminate.
What matters is, once again we have collectively been wounded. And collectively, we will heal, as we have healed in the past, by mourning and supporting, rather than accusing.
It can seem otherwise, sometimes. Canadians are not immune to charlatans who exploit grief and fear by spinning lies. Trolls will contaminate our social-media feeds. People will want you to get angry. People will want you to cast blame.
But you won't be fooled. Because again: truths.
The Economist’s Safe Cities Index last year ranked Toronto the fourth safest city in the world, ahead of any other city in North America or Europe. Even though one in five Canadians was born outside Canada, we are comparatively free of racial, sectarian or ideological strife. Freedom House ranks Canada among the freest countries on Earth. And here’s the thing: These scores don’t go up or down very much. We have been like this now for decades, despite the occasional efforts of copycat assailants.
This harmony is reflected in our political culture. Exactly as you would expect, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer rose in the House, mere minutes after the first reports of the attacks, to say the thoughts and prayers of members on both sides of the aisle were with the victims in this troubled hour.
Past experience suggests that, barring some unexpected revelation, no party will try to exploit this tragedy for political gain. We don’t do that here.
We’re going to learn a great deal more in the weeks and months to come about what caused a person to drive a rented van into crowds of people on a beautiful spring afternoon, killing or injuring dozens. Some of what we learn may cause us to doubt whether we are truly safe.
That’s why we need to hold these truths close, and to repeat them out loud to each other. What happened on Yonge Street was terrible. But what happened is vanishingly rare here.
Of course we aren’t immune to violent rage. And it sickens us when innocents pay the price. But we are blessed to live in a society where so few feel that rage.
We’re not going to let anyone take our peaceful, free, diverse, safe streets away from us.