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Flags fly at half-mast on the Canadian Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 23. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier, was shot and killed while on duty at the nearby National War Memorial. CNS photo/Warren Toda, EPA

Tread carefully

  • October 30, 2014

After the attack on Parliament by a lone gunman the instinctive temptation is to respond aggressively. First, to respond politically by supporting new laws that empower police and security officers at the expense of some civil liberties. Second, to respond socially by waffling on Canadian principles that uphold tolerance and respect for all citizens of all backgrounds. 

Those reactions may be natural, but they mustn’t become our overreaction to the Ottawa bloodletting. The challenge to a peaceable society when it is bludgeoned by terrorism is to never let the fanatic’s virus infect us. To never allow our hearts to become incubators for hatred, bigotry and violence, or allow our democracy to equivocate in its resolve to nurture an equal, free and open nation. To never become like them. 

The government intends to quickly enact legislation to give security and policing bodies more powers to spy, detain and arrest. A rifle-toting gunmen, particularly one whose terrorist links were already suspected by police, should never be able to jog unchallenged into the Parliament buildings. That it happened on Oct. 22 is an appalling security failure that must be fixed — but fixed cautiously and prudently with measures that effectively balance security with liberty. 

We hope that is what the Prime Minister meant when he said Canada will not be intimidated by acts of terror. Refusing to be intimidated must mean more than passing new security measures to safeguard our daily routines. It must entail a resolve to never compromise the values that built our nation, the values that terrorists wage war on. It means vigorously defending rule of law, freedom, tolerance, diversity, compassion and equality for everyone within our borders. Affirming these underpinnings of our democracy is how we show we are not intimidated, even if doing so leaves us exposed to some danger. 

Beyond that, society has an obligation to try to reach out to its lost and troubled souls before they go astray. The typical portrait of home-grown terrorists is of young people who are adrift socially, culturally and financially. They are often second-generation Canadians, sometimes dealing with mental-health issues, on misguided quests for belonging or notoriety who are drawn to websites that urge violence. They often are seeking direction and purpose in what they perceive as empty, meaningless lives. 

Any new laws to increase security must be balanced with measures to reach out in compassion to those on the periphery of society. The objective should not be solely to identify and crush existing threats, but also to understand how seeds of violence are planted so they can be dug out before taking root. 

That is a daunting task. But it is how to proceed as a nation if we are to confront terrorism in a way that is truly Canadian. 

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