Wednesday, October 22 was set to be a typically busy day in the House. From my first meetings in Centre Block on Parliament Hill starting at 7 a.m. to heading to my Confederation Building office for staff meetings, reviewing our amendments to try to stop the legislation to dismantle harm reduction sites (like InSite), improve legislation aimed at increasing hiring of veterans, and then on to meeting with the other MPs who fall into the category of representing small parties or independents.
At 2 p.m. sharp I had been prepared to make a statement in the House honouring the Dalai Lama, whom I will be seeing on Friday in Vancouver, and calling for China to respect human rights in Tibet. By 4 p.m. I was to be testifying in the Senate committee studying my private members bill for a National Lyme Disease strategy. At 6:30 p.m. I was to be debating climate policy with the Parliamentary Secretary for the environment. The evening was a series of meetings including with former Parliamentarians at their annual meeting.
Well, that was what was supposed to happen.
Instead it has been a day of tragedies and shock. As I write this, I am still in lockdown. With seven of my staff in Confederation Building, our office door is locked and we are staying away from the windows. The security officers are still monitoring our hallways. We were told eight hours ago to lock the office door and stay away from the windows.
It doesn’t feel real and I wish it were not. Right now I feel we have more questions than answers.
What we do know is that a member of our Armed Forces has been killed at the War Memorial located a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill. We also know that the Sergeant at Arms, my friend Kevin Vickers, was responsible for shooting and killing the armed man inside Centre Block. There are reports of a second shooter, but that remains unconfirmed.
On Monday a soldier was killed in a small community in Quebec, Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu south of Montreal. Martin Rouleau, the driver of the car, had deliberately taken aim at members of our armed forces who were off duty in a shopping centre parking lot. He was killed shortly afterward by police. Rouleau was known to the police because his parents became alarmed about his erratic behaviour and sudden conversion to radical beliefs. The description of his circumstances suggest mental health issues may have played a role. We know nothing right now about the assailant (or assailants) in Ottawa today.
So, while it is too early to jump to conclusions, I intend to hold fast to the following: we must ensure that this appalling act of violence is not used to justify a disproportionate response. We must not resort to hyperbolic rhetoric. We need to determine if these actions are coordinated to any larger group or are the actions of one or two deranged individuals. If it is the latter we must develop tools and a systematic approach to dissuade our youth from being attracted to violent extremist groups of any kind. We need to protect our rights and liberties in a democracy.
We do know that through history these kinds of events open the door to a loss of democracy. Naomi Klein details the elements of seizing the opportunity created by tragedy or tumult in Shock Doctrine. The title of her new and important book on climate, This Changes Everything, is correct — the threat of the climate crisis changes everything. The shootings on Parliament Hill do not change everything. It is up to all of us to ensure that, to the extent we encounter demands for change, we keep in the forefront of our minds that once we surrender any rights it is very difficult to restore them. Let’s demand answers, sensible policies and proportionate responses.
Image: Flickr/Justin Swan