Image: oaktree_brian_1976/Wikimedia Commons

The aftermath of the Toronto van attack on April 24 tested everyone who was here, in different ways.

Mayor Tory unfortunately wasn’t up to it. His reactions were clichéd and, in my view, inappropriate. He announced a #TorontoStrong Fund. That’s a U.S. thing with American bravado, as if: “We may be overmatched but we won’t ever succumb.”

He said Toronto “will not be cowed.” Why would we be? The city wasn’t under attack by a determined enemy. It was one horrific incident by a distraught guy. Tory said, “We are not broken and we will not be broken.” I doubt that occurred to anyone before he voiced it. In fact, if anybody had a right to feel threatened, it was women, not Toronto. #WomenStrong, if you insist.

It sounded like he was trying to find the right note but hit the wrong one. That’s surprising since Tory has been no parrot of the U.S. in the past. He backed Canadian football for years, when toadies like Paul Godfrey were undermining it.

Const. Ken Lam was astounding. He got the call while on traffic duty and headed alone to the scene. He exited his car, turned off the siren to calm things, and bravely, under the circumstances, holstered his gun. The suspect said he had a gun. “I don’t care,” said Lam adamantly. “Get down.”

He took the guy into custody by himself. It was a peculiarly Toronto scene. You could see people sauntering by and looking over. I had the impression Lam had thought about this situation in the past and decided who he wanted to be if it ever arose.

(Sorry for the invidious comparison. The mayor wasn’t called on to be brave, or act at all. He just had to say something apt. But you never know till it happens.)

When Deputy Police Chief Peter Yuen spoke to the media, we learned there had indeed been training sessions for officers to handle such occasions. He was engaging and eloquent, with the voice of someone who spent his early years elsewhere, in Hong Kong.

He was right to be there rather than Lam, who’d have had to play the modest, reluctant hero, far too soon after the event. Yuen was proud of his colleague, of his city, and the job they’ve done. We knew there were Toronto cops who shoot too quickly, but there are clearly others who don’t.

The media were mixed. I’d been peeved that Canadian media didn’t report that the suspect was “known to police,” as U.S. media swiftly did. But they turned out to be wrong. And it was a relief to flip away from unending U.S. media panels about Trump minutiae. I hadn’t realized how tedious they’ve become.

On the other hand the Toronto media gauntlet that the suspect’s ashen dad had to run at the courthouse arraignment — “Could you at least (at least!) tell us what you’re feeling right now? … Do you have anything to say to the people of Toronto from the bottom of your heart?” — was despicable.

I’m stressing the cross-cultural components because, situated as we are and with the vulnerability we have to U.S. mentalities, it’s a constant struggle to process our experience with integrity rather than through filters that drift over the border and rain down on us. We must be alert, not because we’re anti-American but in order to keep our experience as real and authentic as possible.

That’s good for us and it’s also good for others elsewhere, including the U.S., who value what they can learn from how we access things, just as we can from them. But you have to honour your own reality to do that, even in mere terminology, like recognizing that we have Toronto Police Service, not Toronto P.D., as U.S. reporters sometimes said while noticing us on April 24. It was jarring. Employ the acronym and you’ve already started eliding the reality it connotes.

I don’t mean we live in magnificent separateness, no one does. The misogyny factor is universal, with special input from the U.S. at the moment. Nor is all that comes from there malign. Who knows, perhaps Const. Lam’s unforgettable “I don’t care!” owed a debt to Tommy Lee Jones’ memorable response in The Fugitive, when Dr. Kimble says to him, “I didn’t kill my wife.”

This article originally appeared in The Toronto Star.

Image: oaktree_brian_1976/Wikimedia Commons

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Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.