The recent attack in Ottawa - which the RCMP has declared to be a terrorist act - and which took the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, in addition to the murder of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec, have shaken many of us.
When violent and shocking events take place, it is understandable that we seek to ensure security. At the same time, it is important that this desire for security does not make us close ourselves off, or lose the openness and inclusivity that is such a defining part of our nation.
Since the attacks, some members of the Muslim community have expressed their concern about what it may mean for perceptions of Muslim Canadians. Mohammed Adam - a Muslim Canadian, wrote about this recently in the Ottawa Citizen:
“The problem for Muslims anytime someone claiming to belong to the faith picks up a gun or a bomb and kills, is not just the stain these mindless acts leaves on the religion. Or the suspicion cast on all Muslims, with women in particular facing harassment because their hijabs give them away. The real problem is the utter helplessness of their situation. If you are a Muslim living in Ottawa, Edmonton, or for that matter Kuala Lumpur, and minding your own business, you are still expected to carry the burden of malcontents like Zehaf-Bibeau, a petty criminal, drug addict, and according to his mother, mentally ill.”
Adam added, “Many Muslims struggle to understand why the collective is often held responsible for the actions of individuals they have never heard of, or agree with.”
Adam’s comment about collective responsibility is important for us to consider. In situations like this, it is essential for us to remember individual responsibility. When an individual takes an action, it is that individual who is responsible for that action, not those with whom they may be loosely associated - especially if that association is so loosely based as to unfairly include an entire faith.
Collective punishment is unjust and contrary to one of the defining ideals of Canada - that all of us are equally Canadian and are judged as individuals based on our actions - not our race, faith, sexual orientation, or gender identification.
In the aftermath of the attack, there is strong reason to believe that openness and inclusivity will endure. In Cold Lake Alberta, shortly after the attack in Ottawa, vandals smashed the windows of the Cold Lake Mosque and put up a sign saying “go home.” Yet, the morning after the Mosque was vandalized, the true character of Canada was shown when residents from Cold Lake came together to help clean up and show their support for the Muslim community. They also put up a sign of their own which said, “You are home.”
That is who Canada really is, and it’s something no act of violence or terrorism can take away.
Spencer Fernando has been involved in politics at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. He believes in a “live and let live” philosophy.