George Petrolekas is on the Board of Directors of the CDA Institute and co-author of the 2013 and 2014 Strategic Outlook for Canada. Mr. Petrolekas served with NATO, in Bosnia, and Afghanistan and as an advisor to senior NATO commanders.
For years, Canadians have lived in cocoon of belief, that terrorist actions would never be directed towards us. We were the peaceable kingdom, the evils that have visited London, Madrid and New York would somehow pass us by. Our self-image framed by backpackers wearing a Canadian flag as a form of vaccine against hatred abroad.
On Monday, a radicalized individual stalked and eventually acted against two members of the Canadian Forces, performing within a script prepared for him in social media and the news; an act that was repeated in different form in Ottawa on Wednesday, where another soldier was targeted and the very symbol of our democracy attacked.
In a sense, we have lost our innocence, forced into a new maturity we've never had to face before.
Even now, we are unable to fully come to terms with what this means to us – that will be discussed in the days and weeks ahead. We are struggling to define the act for what it was, blaming it on terrorist ideology rather than acknowledging that there are terrorists in training or hiding in our midst.
In typical Canadian fashion we ask how the system might have failed instead of thinking about what makes the system work, and the impact that has on our core liberties.
It is one thing to identify potential threats, it is another thing entirely to track and follow them. To follow an individual 24 hours a day, seven days a week requires some 40 agents to do so. Multiplied by what the RCMP and CSIS indicated are persons of interest means that some 4,000 agents would be required for that task alone. It does not come cheaply, and so far, it is not a price we have been willing to pay.
You get what you pay for and it seems we are about to recalculate that cost.
Clearly, security in the Parliamentary precinct was not sufficient.
We may have to revisit where Canadian soldiers go in uniform as the British had to do during the time of the IRA troubles; and ceremonial activities like the summertime Changing of the Guard in Ottawa may have to be protected by additional security. There are many other such events, and places to protect that we haven't even thought of yet.
But there are other societal costs to consider. The Muslim community is worried about a backlash – that many will conflate radicalization with the religion itself. It is the wrong reaction.
Rather than defensively react as a community under siege, it is incumbent on the Muslim community to articulate that they have been at the forefront of combating radicalization, and we should support them.
They, not the government, should be the leading voice against the perversions of Islam that radicalized elements like the alleged killers.
And there is more than ample evidence that they have. The family of Monday's suspect first contacted authorities, and then his Imam, to begin the process of de-programming. We should not throw out the Muslim baby with the Jihadist bathwater. We must be better than that.
We should also expect that images of the Ottawa attacks will be appropriated by the sophisticated media arm of the Islamic State to produce new videos extolling their success and blanketing the internet and social media spheres. The tweets have already begun. They will act as motivators for the hidden threat, not only in Canada, but further afield. "Look what you might do" will be the mantra.
If these two incidents were the first, they likely will not be the last and we should be prepared for that.
There are common sense solutions that we might entertain.
Blocking certain Internet sites, YouTube videos and Facebook sites might be a start as well as tracking who visits certain sites and how often. We must also properly resource the agencies that protect us both in law and in fiscal means.
But we must be careful how far we go, if our Charter of Rights is to have any meaning. As Ben Franklin wrote more than 200 years ago, societies that are prepared to trade their liberties in the search of security deserve neither. The new balance we strike will be telling of who we are. We should take inspiration from how so many citizens reacted today, there was never a sense of panic, unlike reactions in so many other places.
We are a stronger nation than what the lone wolves present to us as a threat. We have as a nation endured and overcome many tests; from fires in Saskatchewan, floods in Manitoba to Ice storms in Quebec, to serial killers and now these attacks. And we have emerged as a stronger and wiser nation for those challenges. We will do so again.
Eds Note: An earlier version incorrectly identified Thomas Jefferson as writing on liberty and security