This past May, I was in Ottawa for the annual Tulip Festival. The endless gardens of tulips were magnificent, but what’s even more remarkable is the story behind them. The festival was inspired by a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Dutch Royal Family, given as thanks to Canadians for providing them with shelter during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. In many ways, I like to think that this story epitomizes the Canada we are supposed to know: open, safe, trustworthy, and free.
I was in Calgary a couple summers ago for the Stampede, and two complete strangers offered up their home to my friend and I free of charge–this is the Canada we know. At the Quebec City marathon, the man at the registration desk helped me with my French rather than mocking how poor it was–this is the Canada we know. At Tim Horton’s in the little town of Caledonia, Ontario, my debit card wouldn’t work so the woman beside me paid for my order–this is the Canada we know.
Indeed, across Canada, regardless of the colour of our skin, or the languages we speak, or the deities to whom we pray or don’t, we are united by a common conception of humankind. It is a belief that diversity is the order of the physical world, and it is what makes a nation strong. Therefore, you should always treat your neighbours with respect, and in turn you should trust them not to harm you. This is supposed to be Canadian culture.
In the past week, however, people have died as a result of actions that are an affront to Canada’s cultural values. Shameless acts of terrorism have ignited a media-fuelled fire of emotion as our country mourns the tragic deaths of two soldiers in separate attacks. Somehow, a man armed with a shotgun rampaged his way into the Parliament building – a symbol of our nation’s stability – and created a period of gruelling uncertainty by opening fire on everything for which we stand. It was an act that has left many people confused and afraid, leading some journalists to declare that this should be the beginning of a transformation for Canada. I personally don’t believe that these cruel acts will change our country, and if they do I cannot say it will be for the better.
As I said, there are many emotions, but above all I believe the strongest emotion we feel is anger. We are angry because one of our most important shared cultural values has been insulted; we are angry because we now have to wonder if everything we have been led to believe about ourselves is a lie. Anger cannot be the emotion on which to base a transformation – a country cannot be grounded in anger; there is no comfort in anger, and there is no strength in hatred. Anger leads to a breakdown of all communication and trust. It leads to the increased isolation of certain groups in our society, to a suspension of civil liberties, and to a closed-minded country whose citizens fear, rather than respect, their neighbours.
Canada may be far from perfect, but I will say this: We will not fight terrorism with terrorism. We cannot give in to our anger or to our fear, but instead we should remind ourselves of what we were established to be – a land of peace, dignity, and freedom. This is not an opportunity for a transformation, it is an opportunity to remember who we are and what makes us great.
Thank you, Canada, for being such a wonderful home.