“Thank God, it wasn’t a Muslim.”
That, as veteran journalist and broadcaster Michael Enright told his “Sunday Edition” listeners on CBC radio yesterday, was among his first reactions as the shock and horror of the mass murder on Yonge St. in North York wore off.
By all accounts, the driver of the white rental van that jumped the curb last Monday and ran down dozens of pedestrians – killing 10 and injuring at least 16 – was a lone wolf, a mentally unstable man who may have suffered from delusions of persecution by women who had rejected his advances.
But, as far as is known, it was not an act of terrorism. The suspect’s history does not suggest any political or religious motivation.
The public reaction last week was similar to the response that swept the nation two weeks earlier when the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team collided with a transport truck in rural Saskatchewan, killing 16 players and team officials. The entire nation went into mourning.
Memorial services attracted thousands. Thousands of others placed hockey sticks on their porches to display their support for the families of Humboldt. Spontaneous online campaigns raised millions of dollars for the families of the victims and injured players. Political leaders, including the prime minister, joined the mourners but carefully stayed in the background. It was not a time for politics.
It was Canada at its best and most caring.
It was like that again last week. Toronto is not necessarily the most popular town in Canada. But even people who love to loath the city (and its sports teams) were caught up in the wave of sympathy that swept across the nation. Innocent pedestrians from many backgrounds who were simply strolling at lunch-time on a sunny day, had been run down and murdered for no apparent reason. It could have happened anywhere.
Political leaders rose to the occasion – from Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale. They reassured the community and the country that the van attack had been an isolated atrocity, one without terrorism overtones.
But just think, as Michael Enright did, how different it could have been if the driver had been a Muslim, or a hate-fueled zealot acting out an agenda in support of the Islamic State or some other terrorist group.
Rage could well have overwhelmed sympathy. Communities could have been torn along religious or racial lines, and Canada could have fallen prey to some of the xenophobia and anti-immigrant pressure that afflict countries in Europe and the United States under Donald Trump.
My own reaction was different than Enright’s. It was, thank God, we are not the United States.
If we were, the object that the van driver pulled out and pointed at Constable Ken Lam, the hero of the day, would surely have been a real gun. Constable Lam would have been dead, and so probably would be more pedestrians and onlookers.
Chances are, it would have been a semi-automatic weapon, like the one a seriously disturbed young man had used just the day before to shoot up a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tenn., killing four and wounding four others. That suspect’s motivation: he was convinced he was being stalked by singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.
It couldn’t happen in Canada, could it? Of course, it could. There was a time when Canada could boast about its gun-control regime, but not so much today after measures were deliberately weakened or allowed to erode during the Harper Conservative era.
According to a small arms survey conducted by a Swiss university, the United States leads (if that’s the appropriate word) the world in firearms possession with 88.8 guns per 100 residents.
Canada ranks 13th in the world with 31.2 firearms for every 100 residents – in other words, an average of about one gun per household. Isn’t that’s one gun more than most households conceivably need?