Fulcrum writers share what they learned from the attack on Parliament
Photo: Marta Kierkus
Fear and paranoia are not the right way to move forward
“In recent weeks, I have been saying that our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention, and arrest. They need to be much strengthened, and I assure you … that work which is already under way will be expedited.”
This was part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech from the House of Commons a day after the criminal attacks on Parliament. In his speech, Harper spoke about the need to intensify Canada’s war on ISIS overseas and to increase spying on Canadian citizens. At no point did he mention mental illness or drug abuse, two issues that are directly related to the attack that took place on Oct. 22 (while topics like terrorism are tangentially related at best).
The man who went on this rampage was a deeply troubled individual shaped by poverty and drug abuse. He was not a member of ISIS and his attack was not orchestrated by a terrorist organization in the Middle East. The only orders he received were from himself.
But those facts haven’t stopped Harper or the Conservative government from trying to pursue their own agenda.
These plans to institute invasive security measures are a paranoid delusion and are a disgrace to the memory of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who put his life on the line to ensure our freedoms are maintained. On Oct. 23, all Harper succeeded in doing was making false generalizations and helping to cultivate a state of fear.
Increased security measures and paranoid rhetoric are not the right way to move forward as a nation following this tragedy, and they are certainly not the way to honour the memory of soldiers like Cpl. Cirillo.
Ottawa is strong
While the events following the shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo are tragic, they did at least remind me why I love living in Ottawa.
I am not an Ottawa native. I moved here from Toronto several years ago and made it my home, eventually coming to love this peaceful, green, and friendly city.
On that terrible day in October I finally realized that Ottawa has truly become my home.
While these events transpired, I started thinking in terms of “us” instead of “me.” Who would do this to us? What are the implications for our city?
When people started to talk about increased security measures, an image of a fenced off Parliament came to mind, and it didn’t sit well. I like the fact that our city has enjoyed a reputation of peace and tranquility, and I did not want to see that reputation sullied.
Moreover, I am proud that my fellow citizens did not give in to the rumours and misinformation that were being spread on social media and the news. While there were certainly some people who immediately started pointing fingers at who they thought were to blame for the attack, not everyone thought this way. There were many people around me who were much more objective about the situation and were perfectly willing to wait until all the facts had come in before jumping to conclusions.
Now that the dust has settled, I feel an even stronger sense of community than I did before. My sense of belonging comes from the fact that people bonded together to help each other out during this awful affair. This includes the brave citizens who tried to revive Cpl. Cirillo after he was shot, and the police and the parliamentary security personnel who kept our leaders and citizens safe.
I am proud of their response, and I am proud to call Ottawa my adopted home.
Our sense of normalcy was not lost
As I watched the Ottawa shootings transpire on live TV, I kept getting bombarded by the idea that everything was going to change. I heard this mantra heralded on social media, on the news, and even through conversations with friends and family. I expected to wake up the next day in a completely different Canada, one where everyone lived in relentless fear of the unknown.
But that’s not what happened.
As I walked the streets of Ottawa the following day (and the following weeks), I found that everyone was going about their usual business: buying groceries, jogging, riding the bus to work, attending school. While many people continued to openly express concern and shock about what had happened, I never got the sense that we were involved in a state of national mourning, the same kind of mourning that seemed to paralyze and transform the United States following events like the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Perhaps that’s only natural. After all, we’re very different people in the 21st century. With the advent of the Internet and the 24 hour news cycle, we are reminded of the evils of the world and the fragility of human existence almost every day. Some might suggest this exposure has made us more cynical and world weary. But I like to think it has made us more adaptable, more susceptible to changing circumstances.
If anything can be salvaged from this horrendous event, it’s the idea that we, as human beings, have become experts in coping with trauma. That’s got to be worth something.
Getting the story comes at a cost
In the days following the Ottawa shootings, media commentators extensively discussed the successes and failures of the journalists and news outlets that covered the event. While much of the analysis focused on the accuracy, speed, and tone of the coverage, no one mentioned what had been made so clear in my eyes: that journalism, by its very nature, can sometimes be a highly intrusive practice.
For me, this was a little bit shocking, if not slightly disturbing. The reporters who were on scene were merely doing their job (and doing it well, one could say), but in addition to getting in the way of first responders, they captured at least one moment that I feel should have been left unseen.
As Cpl. Nathan Cirillo lay on the ground dying, with half a dozen people working to keep him alive, he was relentlessly swarmed by cameras and journalists.
“I see four, no five, people giving the soldier CPR,” I recall one out-of-breath reporter saying. She was there as the corporal took his dying breaths and, through the penetrating lens of a camera, so was the rest of the country.
Death is an intensely personal moment, or at least it should be. I pray that when I die, no one will be there to film it and share it with millions of people around the world.
What happened that day was tragic. As the events unfolded, we all wanted to be there, not in person, but up close through the eyes of the media. After all, one of the guiding principles of journalism is to go where the story is. But we should all learn to take a step back and ask ourselves if some things are better left unseen.
U of O emergency response needs improvement
While the shooting at the War Memorial unfolded shortly before 10:00 a.m., it took the University of Ottawa a full hour to issue a lockdown notice, and even then security protocols were not properly administered.
An hour delay for a lockdown is an hour too long. The student body and staff could have benefited from a faster flow of information and more organized direction from the university administration. In comparison, at 10:17 a.m. CFRA Ottawa warned their Twitter users that much of downtown was already in lockdown and advised them to avoid the area if possible.
That morning I was already stowed away in the basement of Morisset, working on a group project. My biggest concern was my physical safety and the safety of others. Even after the lockdown notice, doors were not locked and students were able to move freely in and out of the building. Others seemed to gather around the building’s exits, unsure of whether they should leave or stay.
Prior to the first alert, and without any information from the university administration, the best source of information was from Twitter feeds and from media outlets like CFRA and the CBC.
While the university administration should monitor the situation closely, student safety should be a key concern. Since our campus is located a stone’s throw away from Parliament and the War Memorial, it would be better to err on the side of caution. Besides, who would blame the university for acting too quickly to ensure its students’ safety?
In the wake of this lackluster security response, the university needs to review its risk management plan and consider how to properly enforce lockdown mode, since it was not uniformly applied throughout the campus during the attack on Parliament.