It was one year ago today that I witnessed the shooting of Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial in Ottawa. A lot has happened in the world and in Canada since that day. While I never thought the shooter was more than a mentally ill man with a gun who had used some ill-formed ideas of jihad – borrowed from the Internet and out of the depths of his own mind – to justify his actions to himself, his actions did spur a national examination around security and our collective attitudes towards our Muslim neighbours. A lot of it was hysterical; some of it was hateful.
For me, it took some months to fully regain my equilibrium. While I was committed not to let the event fundamentally change me – and it didn’t – there can be no doubt that it had its impact. I found returning to the Hill every day difficult but after a bit of time off and a lot of careful self-reflection, I honestly believe I have come through the other side both stronger and more committed to the causes of peace, order and good government. I was, I suppose, tempered by the experience.
There are ceremonies to mark Corporal Cirillo’s death going on in Ottawa today but I’m not there; I’m in Istanbul. This was a trip that we booked nearly nine months ago. In the interim the situation in Syria has deteriorated and, in Turkey itself, there has been considerable unrest – largely unrelated to events south of the Turkish border – and several terrorist attacks. A mere two weeks ago, a double bomb blast killed ninety people in Ankara. That’s a long way from Istanbul but in today’s world, is anywhere a long way from anywhere else?
I admit that these incidents created a certain amount of stress. My wife questioned whether we should go at all and, while I remained stoic, I certainly had my qualms. The anticipation that I normally feel for international travel was blunted.
Now that I’m here, of course, I could be anywhere. Istanbul is a beautiful and fascinating place and the people are like people everywhere – busy with their day to day lives and concerns. Everyone is friendly – even if the carpet sellers can be a bit aggressive – and most people seem to be enjoying their lives as best they can. Fear is no more in the air than it is everywhere. Unexposed to the daily media, I hardly sense it at all.
The recent Canadian election has been a cathartic experience for me and, I think, for many Canadians. While it was not a complete rejection of the security agenda of the Conservatives (that would have required an NDP majority) one immediately senses a pullback from the hysterical over-reaction of the previous government. The politics of division and fear seem to have been replaced with that of optimism and a determination to balance our freedoms with legitimate security concerns. The withdrawal of Canadian planes from the bombing raids in Syria was a good step; the significant revisions to Bill C-51 and to other Conservative legislation should remain a priority of the new government.
The world is a complex place and the idea that you can prepare for anything by hiding away from its complexity in a bunker may seem attractive but is ultimately futile. As a middle power, Canada has in the past played a useful role in brokering peace. Let’s hope we can do so again.
And that’s ten minutes.