Kimveer Gill was no Marc Lepine

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Journalists keep asking for the motive of Wednesday's shootings in Montreal. Police say they don't have one yet. Maybe it's comforting to think there must be a motive, which just hasn't been discovered. But lots of acts in life are motiveless, perhaps most: kibitzing, watching TV, taking a walk. They often have reasons, causes or contexts — but don't require actual motives. They can still be meaningful and understandable.

It's confusing because Wednesday's events keep being compared to the 1989 Montreal massacre. Marc Lepine stated his motive then, though some people tried to avoid what he clearly said: that “feminists” ruined his life and he was taking revenge.

But I see no analogy; the most illuminating part is the contrast. The Lepine case had almost too much social significance; this one seems to have none. It's all form, emptiness and imagery, like a video game, the act of someone from whose life any social meaning appears drained and who might not have done it had there been some content or motive of the sort Marc Lepine had. As if he went through ritualistic motions derived from video screens because there was nothing else to do. The more they don't find his motive, the more that very absence starts to sound like a causal factor.

In fact, Kimveer Gill wrote on a website that life is like a video game, it has to end. He wanted a game “so realistic it looks and feels like it's actually happening.” Did his experience have an unreal quality, like people who talk for endless blocks on their cellphones, missing the real traffic and human presence?

Many witnesses described his acts as they would a video game: “He was all in black. He had very big black eyes . . . he was so calm, like he was dancing a waltz.” A video game rather than a movie because the images are crude and undimensional, compared to films. “He said nothing. He had a stone cold face. He didn't yell out any slogans . . . he just started opening fire.” The opposite of Marc Lepine: no motive, no statement, no connection to society, just a sort of affirmation of self in a dreamlike way.

For a few minutes he stood, setting up the scene, as if watching himself in it. Then, “He walked forward and just fired at people. Paf, paf, paf.” Young people know how to describe these things tersely. “He wasn't aiming, he was just turning around and shooting.” That too is unlike Marc Lepine, who carefully shot women in a technical school because they'd wrecked his life. “He couldn't care less that police were there. The guy was acting normal. He didn't run. He wasn't nervous.” Maybe he was on drugs, or just felt outside his own life. It was as if he wouldn't really die, he'd just go on to the next game.

I had a similar sense, sad to say, watching commemorations of 9/11 in the U.S. on Monday. As if many Americans there were less present, than watching themselves on their inner screens, as they went through the emotions. In fact, who knows what part 9/11 and its long, bloody aftermath played at Dawson College. “It's a violent environment,” said a student there.

On the very same day, according to news from Iraq: “Police said . . . they found the bodies of 65 men who had been tortured, shot and dumped, most around Baghdad, while car bombs and mortar attacks killed at least 39 people and wounded dozens more.” And from Afghanistan: “Suicide blasts have killed 173 this year.” What is the numbing effect of hearing daily about such events elsewhere in the world, as if no one really dies and it's on to the next item. A 25-year-old walks into his own video game, fires coolly and randomly, and gets killed too.

On Kimveer Gill's website, he asks: “How truly depressed are you?” Then answers: “Suicidally depressed.”

Marc Lepine may have had too much social reality in his life; Kimveer Gill, too little. But neither's act is unintelligible, even if its precise meaning is unclear. And most people have probably had moments during which they were lucky no gun was at hand.

The surprise may be, not that these events are so frequent but that they are so rare. Imagine living in Iraq, where comparable horrors now happen dozens of times a day; hundreds, per week.

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