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Supporters pay tribute as the Body of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo is transported in a hearse from Ottawa to Hamilton, along the Highway of Heroes in Porthope, Ont., on Friday, October 24, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

'You are so loved."

Those were the indelible words Barbara Winters spoke into the ear of Nathan Cirillo as he was dying at the foot of the National War Memorial in Ottawa on Oct. 22.

Corporal Cirillo had been ambushed while standing on guard and shot down by a gunman who shortly thereafter would himself be killed inside Parliament's Centre Block. Ms. Winters, a lawyer for the Canada Revenue Agency, was on her way to work when she heard the shots that fatally wounded Cpl. Cirillo. She turned and ran toward the horrifying sound. When she got to the Memorial, other passersby were already working to save the fallen reservist. Ms. Winters got on her knees and talked to him.

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"Your family loves you. Your parents are so proud of you. Your military family loves you. All the people here, we're working so hard for you. Everybody loves you.

"You are so loved," she said. But Cpl. Cirillo was gone, aged 24.

In the aftermath of the attack, Canadians wondered how long it would take the country to return to normal. The real answer was, About three seconds, or whatever time it took for six people to rush in the direction of gunfire to help a wounded stranger.

It's still chilling now to remember the confusion and panic of Oct. 22. Two days earlier, a radical Islamist Canadian had used his car to run down two members of the military in a parking lot in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, killing one of them, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. When reports of the shooting at the War Memorial started coming, followed quickly by news of gunfire on Parliament Hill, it felt like the country was under attack by multiple, co-ordinated assailants. Ottawa was locked down; police thought there was another gunman loose in nearby shopping mall; the siege went on and on into the night.

Twenty-four hours later, we had learned enough to know that there was only one shooter in Ottawa, and that he was not connected, other than by warped ideology, to the killer in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Parliament defiantly and reassuringly returned to work. The world was introduced to Kevin Vickers, the soft-spoken but steel-nerved Sergeant-at-Arms who killed the Ottawa gunman and ended his rampage.

And then came the questions. Is Canada suddenly a priority terrorist target? Are we doing enough to monitor potential threats? Is security on Parliament Hill adequate? Can the seat of our democracy remain open to the public and still be properly protected?

Some of them have been answered, some will take longer to get to. There is increased security in and around Centre Block, and more is coming. But it's still open to the public, and if it weren't winter the lawn out front would still be a good place to do yoga.

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As for national security, that's an issue that has gone back into sleep mode. After a burst of debate over whether or not to qualify the attacks as terrorism, there is agreement that both men were lashing out at symbols of Canadian military and government. But neither seems to have had a specific political end in mind, and neither had overseas support or encouragement. They were loners; troubled young men who became self-radicalized. The random nature of their acts of extreme violence shocked Canadians, but that same randomness has turned fear into complacency.

This is a mistake. The overseas threat of Islamic terrorism is real and needs to be addressed. The government's decision to join in the effort to destroy Islamic State in Iraq was well justified, given the world we live in.

Domestically, though, Canada is out of step with places that are more experienced with terrorism and terrorists. The Harper government is happy just to criminalize and demonize Islamic radicalization, but other countries, such as Britain, the United States and Germany, are taking a more holistic approach. They combine tough laws and constant police work with outreach programs that link young Muslims at risk with health and education services that can treat underlying issues before the worst happens.

The programs, though under-funded and often politically delicate, are a proven success, and Canada should be emulating them. Instead, Justice Minister Peter McKay mused in the wake of the Oct. 22 attack about making it a criminal offence to "glorify" terrorist groups, a highly problematic legislative cudgel that has failed in other countries.

Canada's greatest strengths are its compassion, freedom and proven courage. Those six in Ottawa who ran to Nathan Cirillo's aid had no idea whether they were in equal danger, but they didn't stop to think about it. Ms. Winters, Margaret Lehre, Martin Magnan, Kyle Button, Conrad Mialkowski and Anthony Wiseman have since become friends. They get together when they can. They don't grandstand. They feel sad they couldn't do more. They look out for each other. It is these qualities that will best guide Canada as it struggles through this peculiar age.

Editor's note: A previous version of this editorial said incorrectly that Tom Lawson was one of the first people who went to Corporal Nathan Cirillo's aid. In fact, it was not General Tom Lawson but his driver, Corporal Anthony Wiseman, who was one of the first responders.

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