Heightened security only increases our fears

Why the best response to the Ottawa shootings is to open Parliament to all Canadians

Chris Wattie/Reuters

Chris Wattie/Reuters

You could hear the adrenalin in his voice. A journalist, who had been locked down in Parliament all day, was being interviewed about the tragic events in Ottawa. The gun fire, the shouts, the sirens, the hours of waiting, the rumours, the fear: all of this had understandably rattled him.

He spoke rapidly and demanded to know “What went wrong?” How could a terrorist walk into the very heart of our democracy with a gun? How did the police not stop this? How did our spies not predict this? Just last week Michel Coulombe, the director for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had testified to a House of Commons committee that there were 80 Canadians who had travelled overseas to join banned terrorist organizations, and returned, and were now being watched as potential threats. “Why,” demanded the journalist, his voice rising, “are we not rounding them up right now?”

Even as events still unfolded in a confused downtown, the pressure on officials and politicians to “fix” security, to ensure this could never happen again, began to mount. But how could you ever truly prevent something like this? A mentally ill man, enflamed with the zeal of a new mania, running amok with a gun? You simply can’t.

You could build higher fences around Parliament Hill. But then the next one will shoot up a parade. You could put a rifle on every street corner. Yet the next one will use a grenade. You could pat down everyone coming into Downtown Ottawa. Then the next one will attack Rideau Hall.

It is hard to say and harder to accept. But there is nothing you can do to stop the fanatic. Eavesdrop on everyone? Read all our email? Bug every mosque? Armoured police vans? More metal detectors? We have seen this. And all of it, ultimately, is just as ineffective as the thin, fluttering yellow police tape which appeared overnight across Ottawa.

For Canadian security officials and politicians, it is almost impossible to accept this. They are under a heavy burden. Something must be done. Something. Unfortunately, the easiest and most instinctive thing for them to do is close something down. A street. A memorial. A gate. A city. Shut it down. Lock it up. No access.

It is understandable. Almost natural. But it is wrong. Encircling the national War Memorial with short metal fences protects no one. And worse, it actually makes us less secure, more frightened, less unified.

The morning after the horrific Oslo terrorist attack three years ago, the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg declared that the only proper response was “more democracy, more openness, but not naivety.” That is what Canada needs now. That is what has made Canada great. It is not the height of our walls nor the impregnability of our buildings, it is our openness. As Paul Wells poetically wrote,  “you can’t keep a country in lockdown, not while preserving the things that made the country worth having in the first place. Much like its capital precinct, Canada is a big open field, too.”

Before we demand that all the other potential terrorist suspects are rounded up, let us remember that it was the very issue of individual freedoms and the arbitrary seizure of “freemen” that led England’s barons to rise up and demand the Magna Carta, the beginning of the constitutional system that Canada cherishes so much. Ironically, by trying to safeguard our parliament, we would be undermining the ideals upon which it was founded.

Our leaders, and those who are charged with protecting us and our institutions should take down the police tape. Continue to be vigilant and prepared and, yes, be less naïve. But be more open. Remove the barriers.

Return the honour guard to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Lower the fences so we can better see the Peace Tower. Invite Canadians back into its Parliament. Make Oct. 22 an annual open house. A day when all Canadians can walk through the House of Commons, to appreciate the carved stone and oak, to touch the now bullet-pocked walls of the Hall of Honour and to meditate on what it means to be both strong and free.

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Heightened security only increases our fears

  1. Thank you for saying this. I agree totally.

  2. Oops! I thought this was going to be about immigration and the influences on Canada from the outside. Wrong place. Okay.

  3. Well, then there’s this:

    “Before we demand that all the other potential terrorist suspects are rounded up, let us remember that it was the very issue of individual freedoms and the arbitrary seizure of “freemen” that led England’s barons to rise up and demand the Magna Carta, the beginning of the constitutional system that Canada cherishes so much. ”

    Indeed! and let us remember that the world keeps changing. The borders surrounding our countries have left us wide open to attack, or if not to “attack” then to the increasing numbers of immigrants, some of who do not have Canada’s best interests at heart. Whether these two killers, of the two separate attacks in Canada, were under the influence of extremist others we need to know.

    Do not think of it as “rounding them up.” But questioning even our own Canadian-born citizens, if they appear to have terrorist-related interests, is in our best interests. Taking away their passports may not be fair, but informing them they may not be able to return to Canada if they are found to be engaging in terrorist-related activities makes sense to me (dual citizenship or not!.

    • Brave article, Scott, so shortly after emotional events, and I agree: letting fear triumph means that the terrorists achieve their goal. But Sue makes a crucial point in that while we – the citizens – should not behave differently than before, having our security services actually go after the few who cause the problem is the correct solution. The choice between fortifying every possible location (putting ourselves in jail) or isolating the perpetrators should be an obvious one – though I would also claim that some interests prefer the former scenario. As long as constitutional processes continue and a distinction is made between legitimate public protest and situations such as this, then judicially taking away the rights of the very few will avoid the loss of liberty for the many. It need not be a “slippery slope”.

  4. Bravo! Excellent piece. Completely agree.

  5. Thank you… well said. Enhanced vigilance, and well-equipped and funded forces (police included) are now more necessary than we have thought in the past, but the most powerful weapon of all will be our determination to enjoy and celebrate the open spirit of our country.

  6. Hear, hear. I would even go a step further: Ask that all of our provincial legislatures and city halls open themselves up on October 22 so that we might reflect on the importance of our civic institutions.

  7. Thanks for the cool-headed Article,- it needed to be said.

  8. Naive and idealistic is about the best thing I could say about this piece. A gunman got deep into Centre Bloc yesterday before being gunned down. That can’t be allowed to happen again, and I suspect won’t be.

    • Look at your own name and reconsider your advise. What does a raging ranter know about not being the very thing your name says you are? Are not gunmen always first a raging ranter before their disease advances to the next level of rage? Cure your own disease before you tell others how much you know about it.
      12step programs have helped many people and I think the serenity prayer would be healthy for you too.

      • You just wrote an entire post based on nothing more than my screen name. And using nothing more than my screen name to suggest that I’m one step away from becoming the next crazed shooter nonetheless. Paranoid much? Somebody here needs help. But it’s not me.

    • “That can’t be allowed to happen again, and I suspect won’t be.”

      The danger in this line of thinking is that, because you don’t specify what measures you think are reasonable to implement to prevent an attacker from getting into Centre Bloc, the tone of the comment tacitly supports _any_ measures that would achieve this goal.

      This is frightening, because many measures that might achieve the goal you outline would well cost more in freedom than they provide in safety. That you don’t acknowledge this seems like a tacit acceptance that you don’t care about the tension between freedom and safety.

      These aren’t things you have said. Most Canadians are really reasonable, and I would bet that you think it entirely inappropriate for, say, 15-foot electrified fences, 100 attack dogs, genetic screening, 6-month pre-approval for petitioner visits, and designated protest areas are overly burdensome safety measures that cost the public more than they protect them.

      When we weigh in on a topic of such emotional tension as domestic terrorism in a post-2001 world, and fail to show that we see the tension between freedoms/rights and public safety, others may misunderstand and assume our words carry the entirety of our thinking literally, and so the authors of short sentences may seem to become extreme in their thinking.

      I’ve got faith, though. :)

      • I never suggested suggested fortifying Parliament. But I reject outright the idea that we must react by opening it up and actually lessening security. That would be inviting disaster, and is every bit as knee jerk and impulsive a response as turning Parliament into an armed fortress. We already have plenty of expensive security. It will need to be adjusted, retooled, and yes, tightened, in light of this incident. Loosening already existing security to prove that we are not afraid is foolhardy and in its own way, fueled by the same misguided defiant machismo that would have us do the opposite.

        • I certainly concur with Ranters comments. Firstly,while I may not have the writing prowess to articulate with the degree of eloquence as the writer of this article does, my opinion is no less important because of my screen name. Secondly, as Ranter has stated, this is not about suggesting the construction of 100′ walls around our sacred or cherished institutions. Nor should it be removing the existing security we have in place just to prove our solidarity as country in the face of potential danger. If these people, that are obviously wired wrong, mean to do us harm…..they will. Unfortunately they have the advantage, but to suggest we remove what security we have currently to show that person that we are strong without it, is ludicrous. THAT PERSON OR ORGANIZATION DOESN’T CARE ABOUT OUR SOLIDARITY OR PRIDE!!!!! In closing, I would suggest that a compromise of opinions and indeed, actions, would be forthcoming to deal with this real danger. After all, isn’t that, as a country, something we are also known and respected for.

  9. Scott, excellent article at a most difficult time to write but your words are true.
    What people fear ends up becoming what controls them, therefore it is vitally important in a war on terror to not fear being terrorized, but to do the very opposite, and as is so popularly said, ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’.
    It is hard to love someone who hates you, but it is almost impossible to hate someone who truly loves you. The war on terror is truly fought at a level much deeper than we are used to fighting. We have to overcome our own fears in order to understand how to help others overcome theirs.

  10. Great article, mostly agree, but I think that returning the honour guards to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier is a bad idea. I haven’t been to Ottawa in recent years, so it was news to me to hear that there was such an honour guard. I understand from wiki that the honour guard presence started in 2006, after a group of young men were photographed urinating on the memorial at night. These soldiers are performing a ceremonial duty, with unloaded weapons. Civilian authorities are responsible for the security of the monument. Canadian servicemen belong to a professional army. They are not toy soldiers or dolls to be displayed for tourism or image purposes. If we are to continue to be who we have always been, there should not be an honour guard at the cenotaph. There wasn’t for decades. Putting guards for display purposes is putting soldiers at risk for no good reason, and that is not what we have always been.

  11. Less security, not more.

    How much less exactly?

    Extending this article to its logical conclusion, shall we disband the Prime Minister’s security detail? Eliminate all post 9/11 airport security?

    What makes that security acceptable but additional precautions on the building that houses all our parliamentarians not acceptable?

  12. Clearly, what is important here is not that Canadians feel secure in their own country, but that no muslim ever be offended from hearing about what other muslims have been up to. Anything else is pure racism.

    • I question that you’ve average, most apes are smarter than this.

  13. A good read, but the last sentence of the third paragraph raises a question that does have an answer: ‘But how could you ever truly prevent something like this? A mentally ill man, enflamed with the zeal of a new mania, running amok with a gun? You simply can’t.’

    Yes you can! Start putting funding back into the Mental Health Care system! This person clearly slipped through the health system in the past, even though there definitely was a problem but not the resources to deal with it. Had he been properly treated, he may still be alive today contributing positively to society. And we wouldn’t be mourning the loss of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo…

  14. Well. I foresee this proposal gaining as much public support
    as that from the economists who urge that we just give
    poor people money.

  15. I wholeheartedly agree with Scott’s assessment of our need to remain open and inclusive even if it means we occasionally suffer the tragic consequences of those who fail to appreciate the gifts we receive by living our cherished democratic values in this free and open society that is, and God willing will continue to be, a beacon of hope and possibility in this fractured world.

  16. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.” – Thomas Jefferson

    This —> “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” <— – Thomas Jefferson

    "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happened, you can bet it was planned that way." – Franklin D. Roosevelt

    "Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day. But a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers (administrations), too plainly proves a deliberate systematic plan of reducing us to slavery." – Thomas Jefferson

    America, has since, thrown those "values" out the window.
    I don't want that to happen to "Our" Canada.

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