I was never prouder of my country than I was Wednesday. I learned that we are pretty cool people in a crisis.
It's easy to overreact when someone with a gun storms your seat of government and opens fire – especially when you suspect that person is a radicalized terrorist with an unknown number of accomplices. But we didn't overreact.
What I saw was an institutional response that was professional, quick, efficient and calm. Nobody panicked. I saw our police and security forces handle an unprecedented emergency with great competence and a minimum of fuss. They sprang into action within minutes of the gunfire, and didn't push any innocent civilians around.
I saw the media report the story with care and restraint. No premature conclusions. No scare talk. The CBC reporters never turned a hair. The unflappable Peter Mansbridge is still the best quarterback in the business. The Globe's astonishing Josh Wingrove had the fortitude to film the bullets spraying and duck for cover. His electrifying video was shown around the world.
I saw half a dozen bystanders come to the aid of the soldier who'd been shot as he guarded the National War Memorial. One gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Clearly they weren't thinking about themselves.
And I learned that I had woefully underestimated our quaint parliamentary traditions. I'd always thought our sergeant-at-arms was just some guy whose job was to re-enact one of our dustier traditions by dressing up in funny clothes and carrying around a mace (whatever that is). Who knew he was also a crack shot?
But Kevin Vickers, who is 58 and looks it, reportedly can aim and fire with deadly precision when his nation is attacked, then go back into his office to reload. He'll never brag about it, either. That would be un-Canadian.
Mr. Vickers is the reason why terrorism doesn't have a chance in this country. He has made a career of reaching out to Muslims, Sikhs, First Nations, and others who haven't always been included in this country. When the Idle No More movement marched on Parliament Hill, he formally exchanged tobacco with a First Nations chief and said, "I understand your frustration. I understand the conditions in which you people live and I also understand the importance of tobacco and what it means as not only a gift, but as a sign of respect for your people." After the Quebec National Assembly banned the kirpan, he made sure the ceremonial dagger would be allowed in the House of Commons. As he told one gathering of Sikhs, he doesn't like the word "tolerance." "No," he said. "As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct."
Did yesterday change everything? I don't think so. The truth is that we're still as safe (or not) as we were last week. In spite of the terrible, nerve-rattling tragedies of the past few days, we are no more vulnerable to terrorism than any other Western nation, and probably (because of geography) somewhat less. We'll simply have to be on guard.
We'll find out much more in the days ahead – about the shooter, why he did it, whether there were lapses in security. We will debate whether our security forces need extra powers to do their jobs. As we do that, we should keep in mind the words of Kevin Vickers. "I told them that if they made me their sergeant-at-arms, there would be no walls built around Canada's parliamentary buildings," he said.
Parliament Hill, always open to all the people, will probably become less open than before, and that is a real loss. But I'm pretty sure people will be back next summer to do yoga on the grass. Soldiers will continue to wear their uniforms off base.
We Canadians are steadfast and a bit phlegmatic. These are among our finest traits. We don't get that excited, and we won't be cowed into giving up our freedoms. Also, when necessary, we can shoot to kill. So long as we retain these virtues, the terrorists don't have a chance.