Thursday, October 23, 2014

Both my homes were attacked.

It's one day after the gripping Ottawa shooting. I'm not going to recount all the details, that's what journalists have been doing for two days now. I'm writing to reflect on what it feels like to have both my homes experience extreme public violence.

I grew up in Sussex Corner, New Brunswick, 45 minutes away from Moncton. The closest movie theater, airport, and mall worth spending money at are in Moncton. Growing up, Moncton was my urban escape. My Aunt and two cousins live their lives in the Greater Moncton Area, and Moncton is one of three cities I see myself settling down in (in good company with Ottawa and Montreal). In June, Justin Bourque shot and killed three RCMP members in Moncton.


I moved to Ottawa in 2005 to pursue a university education and have been here all but a year spent in Southern Ontario and a couple Summers in New Brunswick. I have two homes. And both of these homes have been attacked this year.


These past months have taught me that tragedy has a way of highlighting both sameness and difference. Sameness is emphasized as we put aside our differences to grieve, reflect, and rebuild. Difference is exaggerated as we construct categories of radical difference that make the people who committed these crimes seem like they couldn't possibly be our neighbours, our community members, or our family.

The painful truth is that criminals all come from these relations, and somewhere along the line we fail them.

I will not call the men who took up arms terrorists; they were not successful in seeding terror into my life. I will call these men murderer, criminal, or psychopath. In truth, I'm more fearful of the reaction to the shootings than I was for my life yesterday. I worry these events will be used as a pretext to erode civil liberties and vilify 'problem populations'.

Now is a time to recognize that Canadians who feel a sense of belonging do not take up arms and murder public servants. Such recognition is not easy; it requires that we admit that not everyone is privy to the same sense of belonging in Canada. I have two thoughts on this matter.

First, we need to be honest about inequalities and privileges in Canada. Canadian multiculturalism is too often a shield that enables Canadians to commit enlightened oppressions. Enlightened oppressions happen when people 'who know better' perpetuate oppressions under the guise that they aren't actually racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Through similar social processes, privileges are made invisible and conversations about race, gender, colonialism, ableism, mental health, sexuality, and poverty get to be classified as impolite or unnecessary. For example: we are a country of immigrants, so why is the birthplace of these murderers so important to news reporting? As if 'born in Canada' describes a higher moral citizenship expectation than naturalization?

These conversations foreground the politics of belonging and non-violence. It is not my intent to essentialize or fetishize minority perspectives; rather, I call on Canadians to reflect on their own willingness to work and learn across difference. When we think of violence as seen in Moncton and Ottawa, inclusion is prevention.

My second thought is generational. Dear Gen Y, I believe we will change the world for the better, but we have let technology isolate us as much as it connects us. It is too easy in our wired world to let a Tweet or Snapchat substitute for a conversation. The conversations needed aren't easy ones to have. Instead of having a supportive forum for communication, Facebook posts get trolled, barbs are exchanged, and no one learns. Each party leaves the engagement thinking what they thought before, but angrier.

Gen Y, it's up to us to pick up the phone, knock on some doors, and participate in public dialogue. Check in with some friends you haven't heard from in a while, introduce yourself to the people in your apartment building, because being alone, being lonely, is a huge reason a person might feel like they don't belong in Canada. From my own experience with depression and anxiety, I can tell you a unexpected phone call can really change the course of a day.


I'm not sad or angry about these violent outbursts; I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that most people only care about communities when they're threatened. Most days, our humanity gets pushed aside for dumb shit like interpersonal competitiveness, ignorance, or making bank.

The appropriate response to the attacks on my homes is opening our doors, not locking them. Security can only provide a limited amount of safety; the remainder of our interpersonal relations depend on a trust that is not generated in a vacuum. I hope we can take these violent incidents and learn that listening and understanding one another as complex, vulnerable, and powerful beings is the only way inculcate a culture of safety.

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