Like many Canadians, I spent much of yesterday morning reading updates and following developments from our nation’s capital. The photos brought me back to the four months I spent living in the city doing a co-op job with Revenue Canada. Ottawa, despite sitting on political, cultural and linguistic fault lines, is a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people. I spent a lot of time on Parliament Hill, walking around the buildings, admiring the architecture and appreciating the view of the city. Behind the Parliament buildings, close to the beautiful National library, is a little gazebo that is part of a tribute to police offers that have fallen in the line of duty. It provides a beautiful view of the Ottawa River, the surrounding valley, and a number of other beautiful buildings and statues. It was probably my favourite place in the city, and it is the one absolute must-see destination when I make return visits.
Even though the city is full of nationalistic identity and symbols of the country’s identity and power, it’s easy for tourists to forget that and get lost in the beauty of the buildings, the natural surroundings and the people. So, it was painful to see yesterday’s transformation in Ottawa. Certainly the loss of life and the ensuing fear that gripped the city and the nation is tragic, but it is part of the transformation from a place of beauty and tranquillity to a place of power and politics.
What hasn’t been talked about much so far is the symbolic nature of the attack. We have no reason to believe that this shooter had any specific vendetta against the soldier he killed or against the politicians he was pursuing. He was attacking what they represented. So, among the loudest voices, we will hear from other people who represent the same things, about how they too are in danger, and how they now refuse to be afraid, etc. But the outpouring of grief from this country is not about offices or symbols or representation, it is about people.
I think it is natural, but misplaced, that today we celebrate the resilience of our country, the principles of our armed forces, and the integrity of our national law enforcement agencies. These make great headlines and rallying speeches, but they do not reflect where people’s sentiments reside. Nathan Cirillo is a person. He leaves behind a young son, a person. Sure he wore a uniform, but primarily we mourn the loss of a person.
Our new national hero, Kevin Vickers, the parliamentary official entrusted for the safety of our government officials, is also a person. Today he walked into the House of Commons, the house of common people making public policy of other common people, and received a standing ovation. Were they celebrating his office, his uniform, or his ceremonial position? No, they were saluting a person. Watch the video of that ovation here. What do you see in his eyes as he receives that ovation? Stoic pride in his office, in his country, in the duty to uphold an institution? No, he is humbled. Humbled because he is merely a person, seeking to protect other persons.
The shooter too was a person. A person with the same intrinsic value and rights of any other person, as enshrined by the laws of this country. If in his pursuit of terror he had been captured instead of killed, he would have had his medical bills paid for by the government, and he would have been afforded a fair trial for his crimes, because he is a person, and we Canadians believe this is the way things should be. This shooter did not understand that. He lost sight of the value of all people. But it wasn’t that he ascribed too little value to people, but that he valued symbols and uniforms too much.
This shooter refused to see past the uniform. He refused to acknowledge that behind the uniform, behind the political office, was a person, created in the image of God, loving and beloved by an endless circle of other humans, capable of showing and infinitely deserving of our love, respect and honour.
Let’s not make the same mistake. For the betterment of our country, our communities and our families, we need to look past partisan political labels, look past national, religious and cultural identities, and look past the facades of office