Ours is a beautiful country.
This may seem an odd thing to say given that we’ve just experienced one of Canada’s worst mass shootings. But it is true.
We are a stoic lot, we Canadians. But when tragedy strikes, there is an outpouring of solidarity that is life-affirming.
And so it was on Monday, not only in London, but across the country.
On Sunday night, a man walked into a mosque near Laval University in Quebec City, opened fire, killing six men while they prayed, and wounding many others. A mere hour later, I received a message from Rev. Kevin George, a friend who is rector at St Aidan’s Anglican Church. He was organizing a stand in solidarity at the London Muslim Mosque for noon the next day.
And with essentially a few hours’ notice overnight, hundreds of people — Christians, Jews and people of no particular religious affiliation — converged on the mosque at noon, on a workday, to offer support.
Friends have been posting their own stories of small acts of solidarity across the city. One hijab-wearing woman wrote about how she felt the silent well-wishes in people’s eyes at the grocery stores. Others wrote about strangers giving them hugs in the mall.
Ours is a beautiful country. But complacency will kill it.
In the 24 hours following the shooting, 14 hate crimes were reported in Montreal alone. Though this is an alarming spike, it is nothing new for Muslims, Jews, people of colour, those with disabilities, and any visibly different group. There has long been an ugly undercurrent.
And in recent years, that undercurrent has slowly but steadily become more visible, more mainstream and more effective. We should not deceive ourselves.
The hate we witnessed on Sunday night cannot be reduced to “Trumpism.” Trump has seized on a malevolent thread in our societies — but its existence predates him.
In fact, this is one area in which we can claim to have led the United States. Our last federal government excelled at dividing and isolating communities. Fear of Islam and Muslims became a strategy. Venerable institutions like the Senate were used to promote anti-Muslim pseudo-experts under the guise of advancing national security.
One such pseudo-expert immediately took to the blogosphere to claim the Quebec City massacre somehow involved a mosque leader, because he wasn’t there for prayer that night. Another right-wing media darling trolled the prime minister, calling him a coward for refusing to admit that the shooting was the work of “jihadis, not some white men.” And when the police concluded there was only one shooter, this person retweeted a claim that “the whitewashing begins.”
Those are not American trolls. They’re ours. And for years, even mainstream Canadian media outlets, under the guise of “hard-hitting investigative journalism” or “presenting alternate sides,” have given them a platform from which to spew their hatred.
If we are to combat this virulent strand of ugliness in our country, this has to stop.
The alleged Quebec City shooter was apparently known not only as pro-Trump and pro-Le Pen (the French far right extremist leader), but also anti-immigrant and anti-women.
And if we needed proof hate tends not to discriminate, on Monday, 13 Jewish community centres across North America received bomb threats. London’s own centre was evacuated because of one such threat.
The six men who died were a microcosm of Canadian society: a university professor, a butcher shop owner, government workers. Some were longtime residents, others newly arrived. This week is a time to honour their memory, stand in solidarity with their families and calm the frayed nerves of Canadians who are now very anxious about their personal safety.
Next week resumes the monumental task of ensuring this beautiful county we enjoy is the one we preserve and pass on to our children.