Since Wednesday’s shooting, the notion that “Canada will never be the same again” has picked up steam. This cliche carries with it potentially dangerous implications.
What happens next is not inevitable. It will be determined by Canadian society and by the political decisions that are taken in the weeks and months ahead. We must not succumb to Islamophobia and racism. We need not fall in line with Harper’s war abroad or new restrictions on civil liberties at home.
In the wake of one gunman’s rampaging attack on Parliament Hill, media representations of events have both short- and long-term consequences. In the digital age, the pressure for outlets to produce instant news and clickbait headlines can have toxic consequences. We can and must do better than breathlessly rushing to publish “unconfirmed reports” or lazily repeating racist tropes in place of sober analysis.
This attack, and the one on Canadian soldiers in St. Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec, two days earlier, came the very week that the Harper government was introducing legislation to grant expanded powers to CSIS. We must not allow the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to become another victim of these attacks. Successive Canadian governments have already implemented repressive legislation in the name of fighting terror, yet measures such as security certificates and secret trials have not made us safer.
Rather than stoking or amplifying prejudices and fears, the role of media in these times should be to provide verified information and present alternative perspectives, especially from Arab, Muslim and other racialized communities. History reminds us of the extreme danger that lies in scapegoating or holding collectively responsible any minority group for the pathologies and crimes of individuals.
We have powerful evidence from south of the border that the so-called War on Terror is a self-perpetuating disaster. New wars, occupations and drone attacks have wreaked havoc and only expanded the breeding grounds for new fundamentalist groups bent on committing sectarian atrocities and encouraging terrorist actions.
Some pro-war voices will argue it’s too soon to talk about Canadian foreign policy. Nonsense. Only the willfully ignorant neglect root causes, and reporting and analyzing the death and destruction wrought by bombs and bullets in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq and Gaza in no way diminishes our sympathy for the victims of Wednesday’s shooting in Ottawa.
The media has, for the most part, failed to be critical of the Harper government’s militarism. After this week’s crimes, there will be increased pressure to limit critiques of Canadian state violence — whether as part of NATO bombing missions overseas or against Indigenous nations here — in the name of unity. But however united we are in feeling disgust, shock or grief, there can be no unity behind the Harper government, its corporate agenda or its reckless and aggressive foreign policy. Doubling down on this sabre rattling is not our only option. A decade ago, the Spanish people gave us an example of a powerful alternative. After the 2004 Madrid subway attacks and the right-wing government’s clumsy efforts to link them to Basque separatists, millions mobilized in the streets against the government, and then at the ballot box to throw the government out of power.
Contra Harper, now is the time to “commit sociology.” It is also the time to commit criminology, to commit history and of course to commit journalism.
We need dissent, reasoned analysis and critical debate now more than ever. And that is what Ricochet will strive to provide over the coming days. We hope you’ll join us.