Terrorism in Ottawa
Events in Quebec on October 20th, and then Ottawa on October 22nd, that saw two soldiers murdered, have come to make me fearful. Not of terrorism, of course – the chances of my being hurt by terrorists is far too small to calculate; the electric appliances in my kitchen are much more likely to kill me – but of the ease by which Prime Minister Stephen Harper was able to play the terrorism card, and to make so many people think that terrorism poses a greater risk than it actually does, thus justifying the kind of Americanesque responses and actions he so clearly loves.
These were criminal acts perpetrated by mentally disturbed men already known to the police and seeking help they were denied. What concerns me is the reasoning. What, exactly, made them terrorists, thus their horrible acts, terrorism?
Harper said that being mentally ill does not preclude one from being a terrorist. Neither does being grey-haired, a vegetarian, or Toronto-born, all of which I am. But being, red-haired, meat-eating and Calgary-born may not preclude one from being a terrorist, either. Nor does having diabetes, bad teeth or poor eyesight, all medical conditions afflicting many innocent citizens. In fact, I can’t think of much, beyond being a child or physically incapacitated that precludes any of us from being a terrorist, so the question becomes does mental illness, or drug addiction, or having a criminal record or being known to “the authorities” make us a terrorist?
You see the dilemma. If yes, then an awful lot of people are “terrorists” to Mr. Harper. If no, we have to dig deeper to see why the Harper government wants us, has made many of us, think these murders were acts of terrorism, with Justin Trudeau in agreement and Thomas Mulcair saying hey, wait a minute....
People are murdered in Canada, by both hit and run drivers and by weapons, quite often. But these victims aren’t called heroes and political leaders don’t attend their funerals. So is killing a hero the criteria? I and everyone I know was horrified by both acts of violence, but are they any worse then what happened to a kid in Grade 10 named Jane Creba when she was killed in Toronto by a stray bullet on Boxing Day, 2005?
Consider the two heroes whose funerals Mr. Harper, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair did attend. One was walking down a road when hit by a car. Walking down a road is not a heroic act…I do it often and I’m not a hero. The other victim was murdered as he stood guard at a monument, an act that never in its history has resulted in death. Don’t get me wrong; both men were tragic victims, and undoubtedly would have done heroic things if given a chance.
They were never given that chance.
But they were soldiers, in uniform and serving their country in a way that walking out of a pizza shop, the thing Jane Creba was doing when hit by a bullet, is not.
Is that what makes them heroes, thus their murderers terrorists? If you are a soldier, or a reservist thinking of joining the military full time, and die violently as a result of it, does that make you a hero? To me that is broadening the term “hero” past its original meaning, a meaning well applied to the citizens who, not knowing if there were other attackers present, rushed to the aid of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo after he was shot while guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier. Hero is what I would call Const. Samearn Son, who so bravely grabbed the barrel of the 30/30 rifle wielded by Michael Zebaf-Bibeau as he entered the Parliament Building, and got wounded when the gun discharged, but managed to raise the alarm. The term “hero” is certainly applicable to the Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, who emptied his pistol into the assailant’s body, killing him, and then reloaded and went in search of other bad guys – heroic acts all, and they should not be confused with walking or standing.
Still, if dying while being a soldier does make you a hero, perhaps we should ask what it is that kills most such Canadian heroes?
But what causes suicide?
Mental illness is a prime cause.
What cures, prevents or mitigates against the most negative results of mental illness?
The appropriate medical help.
What pays for that?
Appropriate social spending, the kind Canadian veterans (who, if killed while in uniform, even if only standing or walking, would be heroes) have so strongly endorsed.
Who cuts social spending?
So who is the terrorist?
To me, it seems that for criminal acts to rise to the level of terrorism, there must be a degree of organization with intent to cause enough havoc to terrify the populace. I think it takes not just the acts, but Mr. Harper’s subsequent actions (abetted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Ottawa at the appropriate moment) to make so many so afraid. Let’s look at the weapons used. One was a car. Can we rule out car ownership as proof or terrorist intent? I mean, they are deadly – vastly deadlier than terrorists – but killing is not their intent.
Guns are different. Killing is their primary function.
One of the first news items I read after the killing was that police were having trouble tracing the gun used to murder Cpl Cirillo. What did various police agencies across the country claim assisted them with such investigations?
The long gun registry.
Who eliminated that?
Yes, but the registry cost a huge amount of money, not all of it taxpayers’, but too much was, so it was eliminated by Mr. Harper. The money could be better spent other ways to prevent crime, we were told.
Certainly as a gun-owner I found the application process imposed by the registry to be mildly annoying. But, all of that was done. The tax and money spent, and surely better spent than building more jails while crime rates were declining, as Mr. Harper also chose to do. The money had been spent to create something most police officers and agencies favored, excluding the head of the Ontario Provincial Police, who went on to become one of Mr. Harper’s cabinet ministers, ironically in charge of veteran’s affairs, a portfolio notoriously unsuccessful in preventing heroes’ deaths, unless, of course, suicide precludes one from being a hero.
So, all that tax money spent to put the registry in place for something that most cops thought would help save lives (they wear uniforms and serve the public interest, so maybe they are heroes too?) was wasted.
Who claims to not want to waste tax payers’ money?
As for the gun used in Ottawa by the Mr. Zebaf-Bibeau, it was a general type I’m familiar with, a late 19th century design that has a lever back of the trigger that has to be cocked to fire each shot. You see ones like it in John Wayne westerns.
Mr. Zebaf-Bibeau fired three shots at the cenotaph. That left four (or maybe five if you could have an extra one in the chamber). All news accounts suggest that he moved quickly, determinedly and nowhere have I seen it suggested he took time to reload, an act that requires inserting each bullet individually. He fired one round into the foot or leg (news accounts vary) of the courageous Const. Samearn Son, who was off-duty and unarmed. Const. Son shouted a warning that allowed other, on duty armed guards to prepare. So there would be three, at most four, shots left in Mr. Zebaf-Bibeau’s rifle.
As he moved along the hallway he was, according to some accounts, wounded, and having trouble cocking the gun. Accounts also say he fired shots. How many? One, two or all of the remaining three or, at most, four? None of this takes a millimeter of respect for the heroic act of Mr. Vickers, of course. One bullet can kill you as dead as a hundred and an empty rifle is indistinguishable from a loaded one. I may have missed it, but it seems no media has asked, and the RCMP has not said, how many, if any, bullets were left in Mr. Zebaf-Bibeau’s rifle.
Another question that has not been asked, nor the information supplied, is what drugs were in the bodies of either of the two murderers (I suppose we have to say “alleged” murderers, but both, being dead, will never be brought to trial, never defended as is every living citizen’s right). It is an important consideration given the effects drugs can have on what people do.
My questions about why these were acts of terrorism are not rhetorical. I have read enough history and been in enough countries under various kinds of government, to know the ease by which totalitarianism can take over from democracy, and one way to do it is to be divisive, to separate out identifiable groups by one common character, and then demonize them. Fear is a powerful social incentive, as is hatred. What seems to make these acts of terrorism is “radicalization”, is the act of ascribing to the goals or interests of an identified terrorist group. In this case it is one that is organized and does use weapons far more effective than a car or a seven shot lever-action 19th century rifle. Clearly they were not involved, however much they might have cheered the results of what appear to be individual criminal acts by disturbed people.
There are guns that can fire ten bullets or more per second, explosives that can be loaded into cars. 9/11 was a classic act of terrorism, but there have been many others. They don’t kill many, but they do generate a lot of fear. That is their purpose. It serves the causes of the terrorists, or so the terrorists think, but I’m not sure that they don’t serve the cause of authority more, if that authority seeks ever more control over citizens.
And who is sewing fear by saying these two murders were terrorism?
Mr. Harper, and the one thing that links these two criminal acts is that the they both apparently ascribed to the goals of ISIL, an authentic terrorist organization.
And why that concerns me is that in both the U.S. and Canada “animal rights” has also been given “terrorism” status by groups like the FBI, and groups seeking to reduce or eliminate the suffering of animals or protect the environment, specifically the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), are named as terrorist organizations, even though their goals are to not harm anyone, human or otherwise. A few animal protectionists and environmentalists have been killed, but they, themselves, have not killed anyone. They may frighten people who legally hurt animals, but they don’t pose a risk to the population overall, or to anyone. While I don’t use or condone many such tactics, they are hardly “terrorism” to me, but they are to the governments of Canada and the U.S.
Whether or not I or any of my colleagues do or don’t ascribe to “animal rights” depends on how the term is defined, and lately it has been as loosely defined as the term “hero”, so that anyone who opposes any form of animal abuse, no matter how egregious, becomes an “animal rights activist”.
In a democracy we are supposed to be able to hold views contrary to government policy, but in authoritarian regimes, that is not the case. I want to continue to live in a democracy.
For example, I support the right of a woman to choose to abort a fetus, or come to term. It’s her choice, so far as I’m concerned. But many people, including staunch supporters of Mr. Harper and many of the people and groups close to him in his youth oppose such a choice, preferring that the state deny her such choice. I absolutely support their right to hold that opinion, and to espouse it, even though it is contrary to my own. But here’s what’s “odd”. Innocent, law-abiding people who support my position have been intimidated, have been shot and killed, by supporters of the anti-choice movement. And yet that movement, has not been called a “terrorist” one.
My point is that if what causes criminals to be terrorists is not their state of mind, not the drugs or mental condition, not the acts, nor even the victims, then it becomes what the government says it becomes. There have been negative actions against law-abiding Canadian Muslims, fortunately tempered by strong support from non-Muslim Canadians. But they know they are on thin ice. The body of 53 year old Patrice Vincent, the soldier murdered by car in Quebec, barely had time to cool before Mr. Harper claimed this man’s death to be an act of terrorism.
Why is he so intent on causing this fear, this divisiveness? I can only surmise, but doing so is what has left me so very, very fearful. I think we all have cause for fear, not of ISIL terrorists, but something far more dangerous to ordinary Canadians.