It has been a difficult, sad week. One Canadian soldier murdered by a vehicle turned into a weapon on Monday, another gunned down at the War Memorial in Ottawa on Wednesday, and the armed assailant later killed while roaming the halls of Parliament. We do not yet know to what extent the two incidents are connected. We do not know if they were in any way planned in concert, or to any degree directed from overseas. What appears far more likely is that they are connected only by a thin thread of ideology: a pseudo-religion that dreams of purification through violence, and whose only commandments are death, death and death.
There's much the public doesn't yet know about the men who carried out these two attacks. At the time of this writing, sources tell The Globe that the Parliament Hill shooter, identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, intended to travel abroad, but had not been able to secure a valid travel document from federal officials. Monday's killer, Martin Rouleau-Couture, had his passport taken away because he was believed to be trying to leave the country to join a jihadist group in Syria. In both cases, questions are rightly being asked about why these men, considered sufficiently high-risk to be denied the right to travel, were never charged. There will be questions about whether police and prosecutors made the wrong call, and why, and whether the law could or should have allowed them to do otherwise. There will be questions about whether we need heavily armed security and security cordons around major public buildings like Parliament. There will be questions about whether our laws need to change. There will be questions about whether Canada needs to change.
And yet, we kind of like Canada the way it is. We suspect that you do too. You can't just walk into the Parliament Buildings without some security screening, and that's as it should be. But, for example, the lawn in front of Parliament is an open, public space. On a nice day, people are out playing frisbee, doing yoga, taking pictures, sometimes protesting and generally enjoying the freedom of life in Canada, the freest of countries. The same goes for our various provincial legislatures. This is the land of peace, order, good government – and freedom.
Canada is also a place where the vast majority of public figures and even ministers of the Crown move about like normal citizens. Unlike the neighbours to the south, most of our government officials are not surrounded by phalanxes of armed guards. They are not riding in motorcades of black SUVs. They don't usually have any police accompaniment at all, and they haven't needed it.
But Canada is no country of naïfs and innocents. Canada isn't Hobbiton. We understand that there are threats, and always have been. We understand that we live in a dangerous, bloody world – and always have. We fought two world wars; more than 110,000 Canadians gave their lives. We have contended with terrorists bent on political murder before – from the killing of Father of Confederation Thomas D'Arcy McGee, Canadian history's only federal political assasination, to the October Crisis and the FLQ's murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. And in recent years, it has been well understood that Parliament, home and symbol of our democracy, would be Target no. 1 for fanatical men wishing us ill. In 1989, a man hijacked a Greyhound bus and had it driven to Parliament's front lawn, demanding the release of political prisoners in the Middle East. And less than a decade ago, a group of men were arrested and convicted of plotting numerous acts of mass murder, including a plan to storm Parliament Hill, take hostages and behead the prime minister.
In light of this week, Canada may have to change. But whatever changes we choose to make should be done carefully and calmly, with an understanding of the limited scale of the threat, and the nature of the tradeoffs between freedom and safety. Any changes made, from security at public buildings to a long-standing system of laws that criminalize action but not thought, should be done only for the benefit of millions of law-abiding Canadians – and not as a panicky reaction to a very small number of men who, unlike some dangers that Canada has faced before, pose no threat whatsoever to the survival of Canada. They are murderers, but their delusions are shared by few. They are not an existential threat to the Canada we cherish. They cannot destroy our society. Let us take the true measure of the danger and respond appropriately.
As news of the attack on Parliament came out on Wednesday morning, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen tweeted, "When Canada goes, it's all over." That provoked a backlash – a very Canadian backlash – on Twitter. A backlash against exaggeration, hysteria and despair. A backlash against overreaction and in favour of calming the hell down.
Canada isn't going anywhere. Nothing about what makes us, us, is "over." We have had a bad week. There is much loss to mourn. But we are still here. We are still standing. The True North remains, strong and free.