10.26.2014

kevin vickers, nathan cirillo, and canada's response to recent acts of violence

I've been thinking a lot about Kevin Vickers. By now the world knows Vickers' name: he is the sergeant-at-arms of the Parliament of Canada, and his quick thinking and courage undoubtedly saved lives. Vickers shot killed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who had already killed one person and appeared intent on killing others.

Vickers is a hero. But my thoughts of him are filled not with adulation, but with sorrow. Imagine going to work one day, a day like any other, and by the time the day is done, you have taken a human life. You have killed a man at close range. What could that be like? It would not be surprising if Vickers will grapple with flashbacks, night terrors, or other forms of PTSD. Despite Vickers' courage and his new celebrity, I'd bet that few of us would want to stand in his shoes.

I've also been thinking of Nathan Cirillo, because it's impossible not to. Although I consume very little mainstream media, a short dip into my Facebook feed is enough: the dog Cirillo left behind, the outpouring of public grief, the obligatory "Highway of Heroes" photos.

Cirillo was a victim, and he did nothing to deserve such a fate. I feel for those who knew and loved him. But what makes Cirillo a hero? Guarding a war memorial surely is not an act of heroism. Is simply putting on a uniform a heroic act? Cirillo's death was senseless and tragic, but it was not heroic.

Of course, hero is a word that's lost all meaning, joining ironic, obviously, and traumatized on the ever-growing list of words that are used so carelessly and so often as to lose all meaning. Hero just might claim pride of place at the very top of that list. But the hero-worship of anyone in uniform is part of the creeping militarization of our society.

I've also been thinking about violence, and how we choose to respond to violence. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government constantly invoked fear in order to advance its agenda: war on people who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, repression of domestic dissent, spying on US citizens.

That response also included the widespread use of torture, and a concentration camp that, more than a decade later, still exists. Even if one believes, despite all facts and evidence, that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the US's response was something like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade. By now it should be clear that the US government had its own agenda, and 9/11 provided the excuse.

Norway, on the other hand, chose a different path: it answered hate with love. After 77 people were massacred on Utøya island, the Norwegian government affirmed the open nature of Norwegian society and pursued charges against the perpetrator within the boundaries of Norwegian law.
These are the originals for the memorials which, from the 22 July anniversary, will be sent out to more than 50 counties across Norway, to commemorate the 77 people massacred by Anders Breivik, the far-right extremist who goes on trial this week.

On each of them, words have been carved from a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen that was recited at the memorial concert for the victims. This poem, with its message of peace, followed the tone set by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy.

"We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values," Stoltenberg said. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity." Norway, he suggested, would not seek vengeance as America had done after the 9/11 attacks." We will answer hatred with love," he said.

"It's a clear case where a politician strikes a chord," said Frank Aarebrot, a professor of politics at the University of Bergen. "The prime minister struck almost a Churchillian note in that speech. People were jubilant."

Norway has granted every legal right to Breivik, despite hearing in gruesome detail of how he coldly executed 56 of his victims with shots to the head, after attacking a Labour party youth camp on the island of Utøya, near Oslo.
Canada has a choice.

On one side stands fear, suspicion, bigotry, and repression, a society where people are feared and attacked because of their appearance and surnames, where people are afraid to exercise their right to criticize the government. On that side, too, stands war: the death and destruction of innocent people, citizens turned into shells of themselves because of what they've witnessed and what they've been asked to do.

On the other side stands democracy, freedom of expression, pluralism, inclusion, human rights, and peace.

What kind of country do we want Canada to be?

Do we want the Harper Government to decide that for us?

18 comments:

James Redekop said...

An important statistic to keep in mind when planning a response to the "surge" in terrorism in Canada:

- Number of Canadian soldiers killed by terrorists in 2014: 2
- Number of Canadian soldiers who died of suicide in 2013: 10

An, of course, if the two Canadian attackers, Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, hadn't converted to Islam in the past two years, these attacks would be called "crimes" instead of "terrorism".

laura k said...

Exactly. You'll note the headline of this post says "violence" rather than "terrorism".

Important statistic, thanks for that.

James Redekop said...

For an idea of just how much contempt the Harper Government has for the military they claim to revere:

Veterans are suing Canada for fair compensation. Crown lawyers declare that the Government of Canada is not obligated to provide for veterans. Or to serving members. Or bound by the arrangements of any previous governments. That there is no covenant with the troops.

Canada's Biggest Security Threat Isn't What You Think

James Redekop said...

Cory Doctorow on the government's response:

Corporal Cirillo died for Canadian values, the values of liberal democracy, of freedom and due process, or government whose legitimacy arises from a care for all Canadians and a willingness to put evidence above partisanship, compromise above political point-scoring.

When Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney responds to this martrydom to the service of freedom with an assault on that freedom, he betrays us all. He betrays Canada, Canada's values, and the lives of the soldiers who died to uphold them. To greet the news of a dead soldier with a call for increased, unwarranted, unaccountable surveillance and arbitrary detention powers is beyond cynical. it is an act of traitorous depravity.

laura k said...

I agree with him about Blaney, of course. But I don't see how Nathan Cirillo died for Canadian values, or any values. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, killed by a mentally ill person.

the salamander said...

.. the gunman, whose troubled background including drug abuse or addiction is emerging was apparently huddled against a column and going nowhere. Had been shot numerous times, some reports suggest almost a dozen times, when shot dead by Vickers, which a coroner may confirm. The media has not discerned if he was asked to surrender, was responsive, or if his rifle was empty or he had more ammunition.. what information the 'authorities' may release is yet to be determined

laura k said...

Salamander, your point? It's best to say outright what you mean rather than post a quote and require readers to guess and assume.

Also, that appears to be a quote, so please provide a link. Thanks.

allan said...

This may be where he is getting the info from. From The Canadian Press:

"Michael Zehaf Bibeau Hit By Nearly A Dozen Bullets Before Kevin Vickers' Fatal Shot: Sources"

laura k said...

The quote isn't difficult to find, but anyone who quotes should leave a link. S/he should also clarify the point of posting the quote.

laura k said...

Good perspective from Noah Richler. I will probably boost that to its own post tomorrow.

allan said...

When a Canadian man killed three Mounties this past summer, I do not recall it being described as "terrorism" and I don't recall much talk about his religious affiliation or whether he had been "radicalized" (winkwink).

gingersnap said...

This doesn't pass the smell test.

Harper lied regarding, taking a bigger role in this war. The US said, they did no such thing. Everything that could be bombed, already was. What was Harper going to bomb, rubble into pebbles?

Harper pushed his way into this war. He was told, this would bring terrorist attacks onto Canada. Harper saw this as a way, to gain more control over Canadian citizens. Harper will milk this, until the cows come home.

the salamander said...

.. having followed media reports of the attack in Ottawa I simply made some condensed observations.. I have my own opinions on heroism.. and my own questions for media or the 'authorities'.. some of which are in my comment, which quotes nobody but myself.

I do know the particular rifle the gunman used to murder Corporal Cirillo and based on various media reports, video and audio etc, simply question if his weapon was empty, still firing or was he reloading.. and if anyone communicated with him. More up to date reports suggest he was shot possibly 20 times including those from Vickers handgun.. and possibly 50 shots were fired at him in total.

Do we know by the gunman stopped where he was killed? Was the library door locked, as were all other doors? Did he have any way to proceed on his rampage or escape?

I also have questions regarding the PM of Canada apparently after the gunfire, hiding or being hidden in a closet while MP's including a quadrapelegic remained exposed to a perceived threat in the conservative caucus room. Media suggest some other MP's escaped on their own to barricade themselves on another floor level.

I always thought questions or observations were useful.. sometimes leading to discovery or understanding.. even a point if there is one. Guessing or assuming by others is OK too .. tho I do like the idea of thinking and wondering

laura k said...

Thanks for returning to fill in some blanks. I have followed almost no media about this attack, so I know very little about the details.

Thoughts and observations are useful. That seems pretty obvious. I found your comments cryptic, so thanks for filling in.

I'd be very interested in knowing what you take away from these observations, what questions they imply for you. If you want to share more, please feel free. You'll find very little blind trust of media or any authority here!

the salamander said...

.. your questions are quite valid. I absorb a diverse range of mainstream and Indy media and also read the political messaging from government and unelected persons - PMO, spokespersons, lobbyists etc... I guess I also infer and read between lines

When I recognize repetition, or new information, speculation, absence of information, questions, propaganda, good curiosity, bafflegarb.. or dogma, I get very intrigued.. and wonder what the truth is.

Hearing Peter MacKay or Tony Clement suggest the terrorist gunman was about to massacre the conservative caucus is an example. What do they know that the people of Canada don't know? And have not been told or informed? Did he have a bomb?

Did the gunman have only a fully loaded 30-30 calibre Winchester or Savage lever action carbine with 7 shots.. using 2 to murder the unarmed Cpl Cirillo and missed hitting the other unarmed guard, then fire one shot in a struggle with an unarmed security guard he wounded atop the entry stairs of The East Block. Reports showed a bullet hole photo to suggest he also fired at the NDP caucus door.

So there's 5 shots fired from a 7 shot internal magazine.. and all reports suggest a firefight, gunbattle etc ensued just outside the Library. Trying to reload a lever action carbine while driving or running full speed is nothing short of miraculous. Reloading after taking any or many shots as well.

Is it possible the gunman had nowhere to go, was in fact trapped in a dead end and briefly facing constant fire from various security, including Vickers, who was able to approach within a foot some anonymous witnesses say, even suggesting Vickers executed a flying inverted shooting dive from the reverse side of a column to kill the gunman from below.

Since Vickers shortly after spoke from a podium microphone to tell the trapped and fearful conservative caucus the assailant was deceased, one assumes he confirmed this, himself.. and the gunman certainly will never explain anything to anyone.. the last insight left to his mother who received little support.

The PM was 'whisked away' to an undisclosed location along with an 'emergency cabinet' and dark utterings of new Terrorism Act legislation ensued, as well as a 458 page Omnibus Bill the following day.

I think Mr Vickers has been exemplary under duress. Has been honourable and circumspect regarding the attack & his role, while praising the integrated security persons involved. His background and legacy is startling for its sageness and courage..

I just wish we could get a simple accurate chronology of events from media and agencies cowed or inhibited or muzzled by our current flailing and failing government...

laura k said...

I just wish we could get a simple accurate chronology of events from media and agencies cowed or inhibited or muzzled by our current flailing and failing government...

You sound very much like my partner did after 9/11, the desire for truth and accuracy that came to be misrepresented as a bunch of tin-foil-hat wearing loonies. Not that the loonies aren't out there, but anyone questioning the ludicrous official stories is tarred with the same brush.

So I hear you.

Personally, I'm not overly concerned with the details of this and I can't stomach the MSM long enough to search for details that don't add up.

It's hard for me to believe that this surprising, though rather minor, incident will greatly change the way Canadians feel about this government and showing them the door on the next election. But I've been wrong before.

the salamander said...

.. I do not believe Canadians will re-elect a Prime Minister who hid or was hidden in a closet during crisis. If a young unarmed soldier had not been murdered as this deranged attack commenced.. there would be no .. ZERO .. question of the current PM resigning prior to election defeat

Corporal Cirillo's tragic death is PM Harper's fragile grasping lifeline to 'power' .. and he also dons the courage of Vickers et al in a hallway thundering with gunfire like some grinning faux patriot wannabe. Without Cirillo's murder, Harper's hiding is seen as absolute cowardice & fear .. hardly Canadian 'values'.

As it is.. his legacy includes hiding in that closet after the gunfire.. as one of Canada's soldiers, unarmed, lay dying in the shadows by The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, supported and loved by ordinary and caring Canadians.. who truly understand how courage is defined

laura k said...

That's one way to read it. I can think of several more. Memories are short, spin is mighty. It certainly looks like this govt's days are numbered, but I wouldn't count on voters to remember or care about Harper hiding or being hidden, and the other parties can't make hay of it.

From where I sit, it's pretty clear that this PM will never resign. His history re prorogation and stolen elections is incompatible with the humility such an action would reflect.