This mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta, was spray-painted by xenophobic vandals. The town is home to an airbase from which CF-18 jet fighters recently departed en route to the war zone of Iraq. The people of Cold Lake have since banded together to clean up the graffiti while the police search for the perpetrators.
Oh, Canada. What’s happening to you?
You used to be such a nice place. Liberal. Socialist, even. And it worked out great for you while it lasted.
You used to be such a livable, lovable place. The country to the immediate south of us may have billed itself the Land of Opportunity, but when it came to real opportunities, we had them beat. Our social safety net ensured that no one got left too far behind by the ups and downs of the mixed economy.
Everyone who came here used to feel so welcome. We got immigrants from all over the world, and they helped make this the most diverse country on the planet. And the most multicultural. And the place where the most disparate people had a chance to coexist peacefully. From Vietnam War draft dodgers to Iraq War refugees, we’ve been enriched by the presence of people who were outcasts in their own lands. And the religious and ethnic clashes of the old country were left far behind, much to the relief and joy of all. Here, it didn’t matter who you were, what you were or where you came from; you were accepted. You were always at home.
And now I feel like a stranger in my own land, even though I was born here.
We seem to have caught terrorism-itis from south of the border. Everyone’s so paranoid now. Instead of waiting to learn what’s going on, we start jumping to false conclusions. The embarrassing truth leaks out too late every time.
Like this week. These past few days saw us “attacked” by two “terrorists” who, it turns out, were something else altogether. One was a paranoid schizophrenic; the other, a drug addict. But since both were Muslims, and chose to attack and kill soldiers of the Canadian army, with a confused mess of ISIL propaganda and madness roaring through their heads, they just automatically got labelled as terrorists. As if they had flown fully loaded passenger jets into the Peace Tower and the banking district of downtown Toronto on a suicide mission co-ordinated from a cave somewhere near the Pak-Afghan border.
The truth is stranger, and sadder, and nowhere near as dramatic as that.
In fact, the “terrorists” were not foreigners, as was initially reported/speculated. They were both native-born French-Canadians. And they both had mental problems that could easily have been treated. This tragedy was totally avoidable, and neither a war nor even changes to our nation’s security systems was necessary to avert it.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at who these guys were, and how they acted.
Martin Couture-Rouleau was a convert to Islam; he converted only last year. He was not an immigrant. He was not even remotely an Arab, or Muslim by birth. His religious conversion appears to have arisen out of a growing heap of personal problems. Apparently he made enough radical-sounding noises that the RCMP was investigating him, and his passport was revoked, preventing him from travelling to Turkey (and presumably, from there, to Syria to join ISIL forces). He was alienated from his family, and everyone who knew him was bewildered by the recent changes to his personality. He was divorced, and his ex-wife was apparently frightened enough of him to seek sole custody of their child. It was not Islam that had made him that way, though; it was his own schizophrenia. His “radicalization” was concurrent with the worsening of his illness. And his own imam struggled in vain to dissuade him from supporting ISIL or taking up battle — or terrorism — on their behalf.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was also not an immigrant, although his father was one (from Libya), and his mother a deputy chair at the federal immigration department. At school he was simply known as Mike Bibeau, the big, gregarious good-time guy voted most likely to succeed, especially with the ladies. But drug addiction shortly after his graduation from high school put an end to all that. He was known to police, but only as a petty criminal and drug abuser. His parents are long divorced, and bewildered as to what has become of him. Like Martin Couture-Rouleau, he was alienated from his family; his mother said she hadn’t seen him in five years. In that time, he had fled to BC, looking in vain to escape his addiction (which had shifted from marijuana and PCP usage to crack cocaine). He tried everything from religion to prison to cure himself. He wasn’t jailed long enough to keep him away from the dealers, and the imam of the mosque where he broke in at night to sleep on the floor locked him out. His religious fervor was a direct outgrowth of his efforts to replace one drug with another. At the time of his final desperate acts, he was homeless and so isolated from humanity that even at the Ottawa homeless shelter where he’d taken refuge, he was an outsider.
Neither man was connected to the other, nor to any known terrorist groups. Both were entirely isolated, and more so thanks to their respective mental conditions.
Meanwhile, our social safety net has eroded. Mental health services have faced severe cutbacks in all provinces. People who should have been hospitalized, as much for their own safety as anyone else’s, are instead left to roam the street, helpless and untreated. A few years ago, we were horrified by a beheading on a Greyhound bus; the killer, in that case, was a schizophrenic too, and should have been hospitalized. Not until he’d killed and partially eaten a complete stranger in the thick of a psychotic episode did he finally get the help he needed. If by “help” one means psychiatric incarceration, that is.
Six years after Vince Weiguang Li began his treatment, our mental health system has not improved a whit. It is still chronically starved of funding and professionals. The mental hospitals we so desperately need are still closed, with no new ones opened to replace them. The few still remaining have waiting lists a mile long. Those who can’t afford private counselling and rehab are shit out of luck.
And worse, we no longer have a federal long-gun registry. That’s right; a crime-fighting tool born out of a terrorist attack in Montréal was scrapped by the same wonderful Conservative party that’s also behind all the other rips in our social safety net! The police are thus officially hamstrung. Who knows if we’ll ever find out how Mike Bibeau, who was legally prohibited from owning firearms due to his criminal and drug record, managed to get his hands on the rifle that enabled him to kill Nathan Cirillo, who was standing guard at the federal War Memorial?
Yeah, tell me the Conservatives are not the real terrorists in all this. They’re using the hysteria surrounding these events, even now, to push their own very anti-Canadian agenda. And the sad part is, too many people are all too happy to LET them.
Of course, salient facts like that have escaped the major media, or the myriads of know-nothings who pontificate in the comments sections of their websites. Most of them seem quite convinced that if we only shut our doors tightly enough, ramped up the security high enough, and went to war in enough foreign countries to “bomb them back to the Stone Age” and “teach them a good lesson”, the “terrorist” problem would be best addressed. Never mind that neither of these guys was a foreigner, and that both in fact were born right here.
Or they’re all full of self-righteous Islamophobia, oblivious to the fact that in both cases, imams actually tried to deter these guys from taking the criminal turns they did. And oblivious, too, to the fact that Canadian Muslims are right on the same page with all the rest of us in condemning such attacks, and terrorism in general.
And above all, they’re oblivious to the role that a too-easy access to guns, and a too-hard access to mental health care, played in this whole goddamn mess. They simply cannot and will not see those connections, even though it doesn’t take a brilliant sociologist to draw them.
Oh yeah, and that’s another thing: We’re not supposed to commit sociology in times of terrorism, according to none other than Stephen Fucking Harper himself. Yes, that’s right…the tough-talking macho PM, who bravely, bravely hid in a broom closet while his underlings barricaded the door with spears made from flag poles!
But hey. At least the parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, proved that his role is not merely ceremonial, even though his costume may be. Like René Jalbert many years before him, he was the one who engaged a confused, deranged gunman hellbent on wreaking terror. Unlike Jalbert, though, he couldn’t talk the shooter out of it; he ended up having to kill him. “Terrorist” crisis ended, either way.
And all this without recourse to war.
Now the PM’s security detail has modified its protocol so that they can enter the Commons chamber and protect him at all times. That’s fine; at least it doesn’t unduly curtail anyone’s civil liberties. Not so fine, however, is the legislation the government apparently passed on the same day as Martin Couture-Rouleau ran down Patrice Vincent in a fit of psychosis. We’re now facing intrusive, unconstitutional online surveillance under the pretext of “crime prevention”! Yay!
So, now you know. And if this is the last post you see from me, you’ll know why. I’ll have been arrested for committing the supreme terrorist act of daring to think un-conservatively and sociologically, and tying together all the things they don’t want us to understand are related. If you think Martin Couture-Rouleau and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau were crazy (and they were, alas), you ain’t seen nothin’ . My own country just totally outclassed them in the losing-one’s-shit department.
And since it’s already at war in Iraq, too, it’s also outdone them in terms of real terrorism.