By Samantha L. Plesser, Esq.
Canada has a reputation as a pristine and peaceful nation. In 2013, the Reputation Institute’s annual 2013 Country RepTrak Study demonstrated that for the third year in a row Canada ranked highest in terms of global admiration and trust. It was therefore unimaginable when, during the week of October 20, 2014, Canada was the target of two terrorist attacks on its home soil. The question that must be asked by the global community and Canadians themselves is not “how could this happen to Canada?” but rather, “why were Canadians not more prepared for these attacks?”
The first attack occurred in Quebec, when two soldiers were run over by a Canadian man whom the government was investigating for potential links to extremist Islamic groups. One of the soldiers died after the hit-and-run, while the other sustained several injuries. The second attack came just two days later. On Wednesday morning, a soldier guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa was shot and killed by a lone gunman. The shooter then proceeded to Parliament Hill’s Center Block, where he was killed in a shootout with a policeman, but only after injuring three civilians.
The world was dumbfounded. How could Canada, voted the seventh most peaceful country by the International Business Times in 2013, become the victim of such random acts of terror? The truth is that Canada is quite lucky it hadn’t been subject to such violence until last week. It has been fighting the war on terror, alongside the United States and the European Union, but has not suffered the same casualties. Even though Canada has not experienced the same degree of terrorism, Islamic extremists are certainly aware with whom the Canadians align. In short, it was simply a matter of time before they struck the nation’s major cities.
When asked if he was surprised by the terrorist attacks, Thomas Juneau, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs responded, “Canada was in Afghanistan for many years. Canada is a member of NATO. Canada has been involved in other operations abroad. Canada is a very close ally of the United States and a member the Western group of countries. All of that are more than enough to make you a target of these groups.”
On September 11, 2001, the United States was thrust into the war on terror when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, killing 2,996 Americans. To date, Jim Lobe of the Inter Press Service, estimated that since 9/11, the War on Terror has cost the U.S. and the European Union over five trillion dollars. Further, casualties at home for the EU and the U.S. at home and abroad have been staggering.
The EU and the United States have led the war on terror, but Canada has always been an integral part of the mission. It has never once vacillated from its position that it stands solidly with the U.S. and the E.U. against Al Qaeda, firmly against global terror, and against extremist Islamic beliefs.
The question becomes, then, why was the Canadian government so ill-prepared to handle these terrorist attacks? The man driving the car responsible for the hit-and-run, Martin Rouleau-Couture, had a Facebook page that extolled Islamic State violence, expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, and denigrated Christianity. The shooter, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had a criminal record, was a known violent offender, and was involved with other criminal activities, including robbery, threatening the police, and drugs. Even with a criminal record, he was somehow able to obtain a firearm. Canada, well renowned for its competent government, dropped the ball in the face of valuable intelligence.
Undoubtedly, the events of last week are tragic. Yet, rather than feign surprise that these attacks took place, the global community and Canada itself must realize that those who take a position against global terror open themselves up to extremists, and by doing so, must always be on alert for attacks on home soil. There are simply no pristine places left in the world anymore, no matter how desperately we wish it.
Samantha L. Plesser, Esq. is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal. She is currently pursuing a masters at The Milano School of Nonprofit Management.
[Picture courtesy of Ashley Fraser]