The soul-searching and policy-reviewing that must happen in the aftermath of the Oct. 22 trauma at the National War Memorial and on Parliament Hill will continue for weeks. Themes are only now coming into focus, but here are three that demand attention:
Will swift action get careful scrutiny? Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has suggested that the government will change the law to make it easier to arrest those suspected of contemplating terrorist attacks. No doubt, many Canadians will support this sort of measure. We’ve been down this road before. The government moved quickly to pass its Combatting Terrorism Act shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing in the spring of 2013. Elements of that controversial bill dated back to laws the Liberal government drafted in a hurry after the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001. Those police powers had “sunsetted,” but the Tories revived them when the public mood seemed right. The pressure, again, to act fast now shouldn’t mean caution is discarded.
How can we combat lone wolves and solo runners? These are two quite separate factors, but now linked. The term “lone wolf” is used to refer to isolated, troubled individuals, usually young men, who pick up radical ideas, then act violently on them. The idea that a single individual running toward an iconic public building can be surprisingly hard to stop has arisen after recent cases, such as the men who have jumped the fence at the White House and, of course, this week’s Parliament Hill attacker. Put together, the rise of Islamic State-inspired lone wolves, and the realization that a solo sprinter can often breach security, and you’ve got a potent, troubling mix for police to ponder.
Innocence lost, or lessons re-learned? No sooner had some commentators declared the loss of Canadian innocence this week than others were protesting that we’ve long since crossed that threshold. The FLQ crisis of 1970 brought soldiers into the streets, not just of Montreal, but in Ottawa, too. The bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985 brought home for many Canadians that their country wasn’t insulated from international terrorism. I thought Paul Dewar, the NDP MP from Ottawa, had it right when he pinpointed the difference this time as the symbolic importance of the two sites violated. That matters: I, personally, find the invasion of those places deeply saddening. Yet Canadians need to find a way to talk about this week’s attacks that doesn’t pretend it’s the first or worst event in our recent history that falls under the the broad heading of violent extremism.