What do the attacks in Ottawa mean for us?

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Yesterday, something most Canadians never imagined possible happened: a gunman shot and killed 24-year-old Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, as he served as part of the ceremonial honor guard at Canada’s National War Memorial. The gunman, identified as 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau[1. The son of the deputy director of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee board], then moved toward Parliament itself, where he continued his attack where he injured at least two more people before he was killed.[2. Here’s a timeline of how events unfolded.]

Wednesdays events mark the second such attack on Canadian soil in the last week. On Monday in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed by a young man, recently converted to Islam with strong ISIS sentiments.

Last night, my wife and I watched Prime Minister Stephen Harper address the nation and use a word many of us might have been thinking, but were still surprised to hear him say: Terrorist. 

“In the days to come, we will learn more about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had,” Harper said. “But this week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world.”

The idea of a terrorist attack in Canada probably seems bizarre. I mean, it’s Canada. We’re all nice and polite and we have criminals who plan massive maple syrup heists. We have incredibly complex gun laws that require people to apply for permission to think about buying a gun.

We don’t have terrorist attacks. Except, it seems, we do.

So, we need to consider how these events should affect our thinking and our living. At the very least, I need to consider this and I’m hoping you’ll do so with me. Here are three things I see as important takeaways:

1. We should not ignore this event. It’s helpful for American readers to understand that when events like this happen, Canadians don’t stop everything they’re doing and watch the news. In America, I’m guessing this would have shut everything down: everyone would be paying attention. That’s just not how it works here.In fact, there are a good number of people here who won’t have any idea that there even was an attack on Parliament. We tend to have a laissez-faire attitude about most things in Canada: politics, the economy, education, Jesus… arguably everything except hockey, coffee, and beer. So when the attack happened, most of us were doing our regular jobs. Some of us were paying attention, but for many, it was more or less business as usual. I would love to see this change in my fellow Canadians, and in me. This doesn’t mean we need to become overly paranoid, but should acknowledge we are not immune to terrorism, and we would be foolish to think otherwise.

2. We must not use it for our own interests. Thankfully, so far at least, no one has taken to the airwaves and touted the need for more stringent gun regulations, nor do we need anyone making up conspiracy theories about Harper government trying to force a police state upon us.[3. Yes, this does happen.] Because we don’t know the full story of what happened yesterday—specifically the motivations behind the events, though it’s almost certainly retaliation for Canada’s involvement in the coalition against ISIS—we would be foolish to rush to any sort of conclusion or use it as a launch pad for personal or political agendas.

3. We need to pray. Ottawa is a city filled with lost people. Toronto is filled with lost people. London (where I live)  is filled with lost people. Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver… every major Canadian city and nearly every community is filled with lost people. But every Canadian community also has at least some faithful Christians. And every faithful Christian desperately needs to be praying right now. We need to pray for wisdom for our government and for the authorities investigating these events. We need to pray that any accomplices still at large would be brought to justice. That further plans would be thwarted. And most importantly, that there would be opportunities to be powerful witnesses to the family of Cpl. Cirillo, to those who were injured in Wednesday’s shootings, and to the millions upon millions of lost people in our nation.


Photo credit: martisak via photopin cc

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

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7 Replies to “What do the attacks in Ottawa mean for us?”

  1. Alasdair Tavernake October 23, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    You don’t know the motivation behind the events? Really? That’s foolishness brother. Pardon.

    1. My comments above represent the caution of government authorities and news organizations that while it certainly looked likely from the get-go, they weren’t comfortable outright saying this is retaliation for Canada’s involvement in the armed coalition agains ISIS.

      I don’t believe reflecting their caution is foolishness, but prudence, but I could be wrong.

  2. Forgive my complete ignorance as an American, but I was surprised to read that the Sergeant at Arms had to run to get a firearm to confront the attacker. Shouldn’t the people guarding parliament be armed with more than ceremonial maces, as quaint as they are?

    Sadly, I can attest that horrible things can happen anywhere. My (once) peaceful, quiet, normal state has been the site of three horrible shootings, all close to where I grew up. (In high school, I worked across the street from the theater where there was the horrific shooting before Batman.) You think these things happen elsewhere to other people, but they can happen anywhere, sadly, because people are messed up everywhere.

    1. That would make sense, certainly. The frustrating thing, particularly about Cpl. Cirillo’s death, is it could likely have been avoided had he had a working weapon instead of a ceremonial one.

      1. I didn’t know that Cpl. Cirillo was unarmed. (American coverage has been quite lacking.) I hope I’m not just a gun crazy American, but it does seem like guards should at least be armed when guarding national monuments!

        1. Nope, not gun crazy at all. I think most of us here would agree.

  3. Steve_Winnipeg_Canada October 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for this.

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