Let us stand together against terrorism, not against each other

The Global Terrorism Database is a record of over 140,000 attacks, most of which are not in Europe or North America. In Canada, terrorism has flared up in waves, each time as a result of a different group or cause. In the 1860s, it was the Fenians, a group of Irish that thought attacking Canada (then a British colony) would lead to independence from Ireland. A Fenian apparently was responsible for Canada’s first political assassination, of Member of Parliament and Father of Confederation Thomas D’Arcy McGee. In the 1960s, it was another group, the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), seeking Québec independence initially through bombing mailboxes and the Montréal Stock Exchange, culminating in Canada’s second political assassination, of Québec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. In the 1980s, the left-wing group the Squamish Five bombed a defence industry factory and Sikh militants bombed an Air India flight from Vancouver. In many other countries, right-wing extremism has led to massacres, such as the 79 people killed by Anders Breivik in Norway and the Oklahoma City bombing. Here in Canada, right-wing, racist extremism is targeted, resulting in over a thousand reported hate crimes per year.

The groups and causes change over the years, but the constant is that some people think violence is a way to solve their problems or effect change in the world. It is important for us to understand that they want us to be divided, to be fearful and suspicious of one another. In order to stand strong in the face of terrorism, we must stand together across race, ethnicity, language, religion, and nationality.

To those who think that the problem is Muslims, know that Muslims have actually borne the brunt of ISIS and al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. To these groups, most Muslims are apostates, because they do not agree with the twisted brand of Islam they promote. ISIS is a group that wants to control other people, Muslims included, and they have killed more Muslims than any other religious group even though they have specifically targeted minority religious groups.

Our opponents  are not people like the pregnant Muslim woman thrown to the ground in Montreal when two teenagers try to rip off her hijab. Our opponents are people who use violence to control others.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, a refugee camp outside Paris was attacked and burned. According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes directed against Muslims in Canada are increasing, whereas most hate crimes against other groups are declining.

I know that although many of us in Canada live in multicultural neighbourhoods where we see our neighbours as the human beings they are, there are some with limited experience with people who are different than themselves. Please do not let fear dictate your actions, or think you know a people because of what you see on TV. No matter what happens to us in Canada or around the world, we are stronger together.

And to those of our young people who are swayed by ISIS propaganda on the internet, open your eyes to see the devastation that is wrought by a hypocritical group bent on power. Know that real, positive change comes from working with others, not from dehumanizing them.

Why bells will be ringing across Canada on May 31

For 120 years, Indigenous children in Canada were separated by federal law from their families and communities and sent to church-run Indian Residential Schools. The documented purpose of these schools was to wipe out Indigenous cultures, languages, spiritualties and traditions. It failed, but it caused much continuing harm in the process. Many of these students were physically and sexually abused, did not learn how to have good relationships and were taught to be ashamed of themselves and their parents. Thousands died at these schools and never came home at all.

This Sunday, participating churches across Canada will be ringing bells at noon, ringing for reconciliation, acknowledging their part in this process and their commitment to working with Indigenous peoples to build a new and brighter future. Those churches that don’t have belfries, like First United Church and All Saints Westboro in Ottawa, will be outside ringing handbells, tambourines and anything that makes a ringing noise. Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has spent six long years listening to the testimony of residential school survivors, is marking the end of its journey from May 31-June 3 with ceremonies, educational events, and a call to action. Across Canada, all kinds of people are participating in the walks for reconciliation, planting heart gardens, and other events.

In other parts of the world, grave injustices deliberately committed against a people can lead to decades or centuries of further hatred and violence. Indigenous peoples in Canada want to move forward with the rest of Canada, in a relationship of justice and harmony. This involves acknowledging not only the injustices of the past, but the continuing injustice and trauma of murdered and missing Indigenous women, destruction of Indigenous lands and waters, and the fact that First Nations and Inuit children receive a much lower standard of education in their communities than other Canadian kids. Reconciliation is a recognition of these realities and a commitment to action. We can’t just be sorry about what happened in the past, we must rectify the injustices of today and build a better future together based on justice and equality.

The Truth and Reconciliation’s Walk for Reconciliation starts on Sunday at 11 am at l’Ecole Secondaire de L’Ile in Gatineau, winds its way across the Portage Bridge between Québec and Ontario through Anishnaabe (Algonquin) sacred land, a traditional meeting place of nations, and ends at Ottawa City Hall where walkers will be welcomed 1.30 pm, followed by music and entertainment by Indigenous artists until 5 pm. The full schedule of events in Ottawa is available here.

On Wednesday, June 3, children and youth will plant a Garden of Hearts at Rideau Hall (the Governor General’s residence) in Ottawa in memory of children that “went missing” while at residential school. Many of the older schools are flanked by the unmarked graves of children, while others died in an attempt to escape their schools. In the majority of cases, their parents were never informed about what happened to them, as the schools were not accountable in any way to parents. “Honouring Memories, Planting Dreams” Heart Gardens will also be planted across Canada.

The last of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools closed in 1996. The residential school experience, the attempt to break the spirit and bodies of an entire race of people, is not just felt by those who survived the schools, but their families and communities too. Off-reserve First Nations kids who had a family member attend residential school are less likely to complete high school than those who don’t. Those who wish to know more might want to look at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s interim report They Came for the Children. Another good resource is the National Film Board of Canada production We Were Children, the personal story of two survivors.

Reconciliation is to come together, understand each other, and move forward with a new and better relationship. It may start with ringing a bell or planting a garden, but there is a long road to walk ahead.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission logo

Most parents support the updated Ontario sex ed curriculum, for good reasons

The uproar over Ontario’s updated sexual education curriculum has now gone way over the top, with misinformation flying around the province and some parents pulling their kids out of school in protest. I respect the right of these parents to make their views known. I respect the right of these parents to pull their kids out of school when the new sexual health curriculum will be discussed in class. But what I oppose and resent is the attempt to axe the whole curriculum so that my child and the children of most Ontario parents, who support the curriculum, can’t benefit from it either. These parents have the right to impose their minority religious beliefs and values on their own kids, but they have no right to impose them on mine.

Some of the misinformation about the new curriculum floating around rivals the inaccuracies kids get about sex from their friends and our culture.  Some parents are convinced that their kids will be taught to touch themselves at school – I kid you not. The Toronto Star has tallied up some of the misinformation that parents are getting. Here is a summary of the actual curriculum, and this is the parents’ guide to the updated portion of the Grades 1-6 curriculum. The curriculum stresses respecting yourself and respecting others. If you oppose it, fine. At least know what you are opposing.

I am sure these concerned parents are well-meaning. They just want to protect their kids. Despite all the research evidence to the contrary, I have heard some parents on the radio express fears that teaching their child the correct names for their genitalia will somehow encourage their kids to experiment sexually.  I hate to break this to them, but kids’ curiosity about genitalia predates sexual education curricula by thousands of years.

In Grades 1-3, Ontario kids will be taught the correct names for body parts, as opposed to “wee-wee” or “down there”.  They will also be taught how to recognize inappropriate touching and what to do about it. Because I am a researcher who has done work in the area of child sexual abuse, I recognize that this is based on research about what actually works to help kids avoid sexual abuse and to report abuse if it does happen. Here again, parental misinformation is a problem, fueled by media focus on sexual predators. Many people believe that child sexual abusers are monsters and weirdos hiding out in bushes waiting to abduct kids, because that’s what gets the headlines. In fact, most people who sexual abuse kids are ordinary and have a relationship with the child – a family member, a family friend, or a person with authority over the child. It is very difficult for a small child not to believe a trusted adult who convinces them that sexual touching is okay and “our little secret”. Ignorance does not protect children. Information does.

In my own parenting, I have taken a cue from an uncle who was a doctor. He taught his daughters the correct names for genitalia and even about sex from an early age. Did they grow up to be teenage moms, as one parent I heard predicted? No. They both grew up to be happy, well-adjusted doctors. I taught my own daughter to say “penis” and “vagina” by the time she was three and started asking these questions. The woman I heard on the radio who doesn’t want her kids to learn the correct words will get a surprise when her kids come home with ruder names for these body parts from the playground.

In Grades 4 to 6, the time when some kids are now entering puberty, they will learn about the physical and emotional changes that accompany puberty. The curriculum includes getting cultural advice from elders as a way of managing stress, as well as taking care of yourself and making healthy choices. They learn that touching people without their permission or sharing explicit photos of someone is both inappropriate and illegal.

When kids are older, the curriculum is based on evidence about what delays teen sex, prevents pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease. I’ve heard parents mistakenly assume that if sex is discussed in school, kids will rush out to try it when in fact the research shows the opposite is true. Robbing kids of factual information does not prevent them from developing sexual feelings at puberty like everybody else. Not getting factual information at school does not prevent them from hearing about sex elsewhere, such as misinformation from friends and the internet. Not talking about sex except in the context of religious values and abstinence does not prevent premarital sex, as the existence of institutions for unwed mothers prior to the 1960s clearly show.

The United States, which has the least sex ed and the most abstinence-based sex ed programs also has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the industrialized world. Why? We live in a hyper-sexualized culture. Our kids see it through TV, movies, the internet and other kids. They get all sorts of misinformation about sex, particularly through pornography, in which no one ever gets pregnant or picks up a disease. Even if you try to shield your kids from the culture around them, they will experience it through other people’s kids. When young people learn in school that sex isn’t just pleasure, it comes with responsibility, they tend to delay sexual activity and are better prepared to protect themselves when they do engage in it. The Netherlands has a very low rate of teen pregnancy and teens delay sex. They have very well-developed sex ed curricula in schools. Knowledge is not the enemy. Misinformation is.

The new curriculum specifically talks in Grade 7 about the benefits of delaying sexual activity and the risk of sexually-transmitted infection. Only in Grade 8 is contraception covered. You can see this in the full Health and Physical Education curriculum for Grades 1-8, which is where the updated sexual health information is embedded. Sexual education is not a stand-alone topic in Ontario schools. It is part of a holistic approach to understanding human physical and emotional development and healthy choices.

The updated curriculum is also based on evidence about what prevents bullying and suicide based on sexual orientation. In Ontario, it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. In Grades 1-3 kids will learn that some kids have different abilities, come from different cultural backgrounds or might have two moms or two dads, and that we must respect everyone and not treat them badly because they may be different. Not until Grades 6-8 (ages 11-13) does the issue of sexual orientation come up in terms of self-concept. This is an important time to cover this issue. This is the time that bullying on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation ramps up in schools, which we know is a factor in the higher suicide rates of LGBTQ youth.1 The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about the LGBTQ youth, “Going to a school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students and having caring and accepting parents are especially important.” Unfortunately, some parents are not accepting, which is a factor in the higher risk of homelessness for LGBTQ youth. Some parents see this as a moral issue. So do I. Like most Ontarians, I think it is unconscionable to pretend LGBTQ youth don’t exist, to make them feel sick, sinful or less than human, or to turn our backs while they are being bullied.

It is ridiculous to think that if we just don’t talk about it, no teen will develop feelings for another person of the same sex. In some parts of the world, same-sex relationships are illegal and even subject to the death penalty, but that does not stop them from happening.

I strongly support the discussion about consent in Grade 8 (age 13), and the focus on treating ourselves and others respectfully. In our society, there is now a disconnect between many people’s attitudes about sexual consent and what the law actually states. I still hear attitudes about women or girls “deserving it” because of what they wear, the hour they are out at night or because they went to a party. Our human rights are not suspended because of our clothing, the hour of day or our GPS location. Getting the facts about consent, that any girl or boy, man or woman has the right to say no to any kind of touching or activity at any time, will hopefully become the cultural norm for this generation of kids who get this discussion in school. They will learn that clear and ongoing consent to sexual activity must be obtained, and that not to do so is against the law. That will empower teens to say no. That will prevent some of the rampant sexual assaults of teens and young women. This is a significant step forward for our society, to try to get everyone on the same page to prevent sexual assault. Ignorance does not protect young women or young men.

I also strongly support the discussion in Grade 9 (age 14) about the dangers of sexting. What teenagers listen to their parents about technology? How many kids like Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons need to die before parents realize that ordinary kids can get into big trouble through coercion or the attitudes of the people around them? We all want to protect our kids, but as they grow up, this becomes more and more difficult. We can’t keep our kids locked up in the basement until they become adults. Not only is this illegal, but they will have no idea how to function in this world. Knowledge is our kids’ best defence. Ignorance cannot protect them.

Far from trying to supplant parents, the curriculum actually states: “Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models.” Parental values go hand in hand with knowledge.  The school is there to provide knowledge, based on the latest evidence. The parents are there to provide love, guidance and values. It is a partnership in education.

This leads me to the other argument I have heard – that parents should be the only ones to teach their kids about sex, not schools. Suddenly, I am flashing back to the most awkward conversation I’ve ever had in my life, where my mother tried to tell me about sex when I was 11, only because I asked her. Many parents are not comfortable talking to their kids about sex, and do not cover the topic well or thoroughly. Many teens do not feel comfortable talking to their parents about sex, and are afraid to ask questions because the parent may assume they are sexually active. Teens tend to talk to their friends about these topics, and what they learn in the locker room isn’t what they would be learning from either their parents or the classroom.

Parents are entitled to pass on their religious or moral beliefs to their kids, but they are not entitled to pass on their religious or moral beliefs to my child. By trying to force the Ontario government to yank the evidence-based, updated portions of the health curriculum for all Ontario kids, they are trying to prevent the majority who support this initiative from benefitting from it. And that’s wrong.

By all means, withdraw your kids from class during the sex ed sessions if that’s what you want. But I want my daughter to be there learning.


1 Russell, S.T. & Joyner, K. 2001. Adolescent sexual orientation and suicide risk: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health 91:1276–1281.

Another concerned Ontario parent has started a petition in support of the updated, evidence-based curriculum.

International Women’s Day: Lifetimes of change for women

March 8th, International Women’s Day (IWD), was my mother’s birthday. When she was born in Québec in 1934, women did not yet have the provincial vote. When I was four years old, it became legal in Canada to distribute birth control information, which had until that time been a criminal offence.  When I was in university in 1983, the old rape law changed to the new sexual assault law which for the first time gave women the right to say “no” in marriage. That same year, the first directive was issued to a major police force in Canada to actually charge men who physically assaulted their wives. A lot has changed since my mother’s time and in my lifetime, but not enough.

Mi’kmaw lawyer and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University Dr. Pamela Palmater marked International Women’s Day by pointing out that in Canada, 1,200 Indigenous women have been murdered or are missing, and face an increased risk of violence. Around the world, the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict is facing an uphill battle. Women like Mayerlis Angarita who speaks out against rape in Colombia, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin and American feminist video game critic Anita Sarkeesian receive death threats. Hundreds of Nigerian girls captured by Boko Haram for sex have not been released. But thousands of caring men and women have taken up the challenge for the first time of ending violence against women. For example, women and men, many of whom had never protested before, flooded the streets of India in anger about the gang rapes and murders of women.

We want peace in our homes, peace in our streets, peace in our world. In 2006, female Nobel Peace Prize Laureates founded the Nobel Peace Women’s Initiative, “to magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.” According to Nobel Peace Laureates Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Jody Williams, Betty Williams, Mairead Maguire, Aung San Suu Kyi, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman:

We believe peace is much more than the absence of armed conflict. Peace is the commitment to equality and justice; a democratic world free of physical, economic, cultural, political, religious, sexual and environmental violence and the constant threat of these forms of violence against women — indeed against all of humanity.

Economic inequality also disproportionately affects women around the world, from the enduring wage gap between women and men to the sex trafficking of women. There are now a handful of women CEOs, although not as many as men named John, but there are literally billions of women and girls in the world who toil with low wages or no wages. A recent article in the Guardian states that “If women in developing countries were paid as much as men and had equal access to the labor market, the [ActionAid] report calculates, they would make an extra $9tn [trillion] per year.” Here is a short video from the World Economic Forum about its 2014 Gender Gap Report.

International Women’s Day is about a hundred years old, its roots in the commemoration of women working with terrible wages and working conditions in factories and sweatshops in industrialized countries. The song Bread and Roses celebrates the hopes and human dignity of these women:

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,

A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,

Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,

For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,

For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead

Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.

Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.

Yes, it is bread we fight for—but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.

The rising of the women means the rising of the race.

No more the drudge and idler—ten that toil where one reposes,

But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

However, this is not just a song about the past. The clothes you are wearing have probably been made by low-wage workers, primarily women and kids, in an unsafe factory working long hours without breaks. Eighty percent of the world’s garment workers are women. In 2013, the Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh housing several factories making clothes for profitable multinationals such as Walmart collapsed killing 1,129 people and injuring 2,515. Visit Behind the Label if you want to know more about supporting today’s garment workers.

Remarking on the results of a recent report on the status of women in 167 countries, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called progress in the last 20 years “unacceptably slow.” No country has achieved gender equality, and there has been some stagnation and regression in some areas. On the positive side, progress has been made in education for girls, and maternal mortality has dropped enormously.

Although that progress has clearly not been universal, I have been a direct beneficiary of the work of others for equality. My life is much freer now than it would have been 150 years ago in Canada. I may still be earning 30% less than my male counterparts, but at least I went to university, which would once have been barred to me. I can vote. I can sign legal documents, rather than have my father or husband sign for me. I can open a bank account under my own name. I can drive, unlike my sisters in Saudi Arabia. I owe so much to the many women who came before me, who paved my way. I have an obligation to pay it forward, for all the women who do not enjoy any degree of safety, economic justice or freedom in my own country and all the nations of the world.

I owe it also to my daughter. She is 10 years old. I want her to be able to study, walk on the street and sleep in her home without the risk of sexual assault. If she chooses to become a mother, I want her work to be valued and appreciated and not be stuck with the economic burden of lower wages for reproducing the next generation of citizens, workers and taxpayers. It has already taken many lifetimes to come as far as we have. It may take many more for women, girls, men and boys around the world to be safe, equal and free. Even if we never get there, every step we take toward that goal will make a difference to someone.

As Solomon Burke sang, “If one of us is chained, none of us are free.”

I remember December 6, 1989

I remember being sick to my stomach when I heard on the news 25 years ago that a man went into the École Polytechnique campus in Montreal, separated the women from the men, and gunned down the women. He hated women, and blamed them for all the failures in his own life. This event became a symbol of the violence that women and girls suffer on the streets and in their homes, a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada.

I remember.

But this isn’t just a day to remember the suffering, the suffering from violence that is experienced by women and girls around the world. It is a day to remember what can change.

Until 1983, when I was 18 years old, it was legal in Canada for a man to rape his wife.  In the mid-1970s in Canada, when I was 10 years old, there were no shelters for abused women. Even more women suffered in silence behind closed doors, and twice as many women were murdered back then than today. But not enough has changed.

National Day of Remembrance and Action candlesThere are over a thousand murdered and missing First Nations, Inuit and Metis women in Canada. Women and girls continue to suffer and die in gender-based violence around the world. So we remember the suffering, and we remember all the people around the world who have worked and continue to work for change,

so that we may one day all live in peace and equality.

Has Canada really “lost its innocence” in the War Memorial/Parliament Hill attack in Ottawa?

People who think Canada has “lost its innocence” in the October 22, 2014 terrorist attack on the War Memorial and Parliament Hill don’t know much about Canadian history.

Just one year after Canada became a country in 1867, Canadian Member of Parliament Thomas D’Arcy McGee was assassinated in downtown Ottawa, one block from Parliament Hill. D’Arcy McGee was one of the Canadian Fathers of Confederation, originally an Irish nationalist who censured the Fenian Brotherhood, an Irish group that plotted a forcible takeover of Canada from the United States in order to strike back at Britain for its occupation of Ireland. When D’Arcy McGee was assassinated presumably by a Fenian sympathizer, soldiers patrolled the streets of Ottawa and men of Irish origin were rounded up.

In the 1960s, a Québec separatist group called the Front de Liberation du Québec (FLQ) bombed mailboxes, businesses owned by anglophones, and other places symbolic to them such as the Montreal Stock Exchange, Royal Montreal Regiment, the Canadian Army Recruiting Centre, and the home of Montreal’s mayor. A number of people were killed and many injured in attacks spread out over seven years. Then in 1970, the FLQ stepped up the attacks by assassinating Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and kidnapping British trade commissioner James Cross. The War Measures Act was invoked, there were soldiers in the streets, and over 450 people were rounded up by police and detained without charge. I was five years old and lived in Québec then, and I remember – Je me souviens.

Where is the FLQ today? Nowhere, because most Quebeckers did not support violence and developed a democratic avenue to express a commitment to independence. Quebec’s first Parti Québécois government was elected in 1976. Since then, Québec independence has been democratically debated, and supporters of independence know that they must convince enough other Quebeckers to support it in order to make it happen. Did the FLQ die because of a “war on terror”? In fact, the demands of the FLQ cell that captured James Cross were met – the terrorists were given free passage to Cuba in exchange for Cross’ life, as well as having their manifesto broadcast on the airwaves.

The Parliament Hill shooting was not the first terrorist act in a Canadian legislature. In 1984, former Canadian Forces Corporal Denis Lortie opened fire in the National Assembly (the Québec legislature), killing three people and wounding 13. The Parliament Hill shooting was not even the first threat to Parliament Hill. In 1989 Charles Yacoub hijacked a Greyhound bus full of people, drove onto the lawn of Parliament Hill, and claiming that there was a bomb on the bus proceeded to hold the hostages for eight hours. The Parliament buildings were evacuated.

Nor were any of these incidents the worst act of terrorism in Canada, a dubious title which still belongs to the Air India bombing in 1985. The bomb was put on the plane in Vancouver and killed 329 people.

People think of Canada as a peaceful and prosperous place, and it is for most Canadians now, except for the 2,959,000 million Canadians who live in poverty and the 223,000 Canadians assaulted in 2012. Canada’s history has not been so peaceful. In 1919, Canadian soldiers were used to violently suppress workers involved in Winnipeg General Strike.  During that time period, violent suppression of labour unrest and union activity was common.  The War Measures Act was also used from 1914-1920 to round up “enemy aliens” (Canadians of Ukrainian, East European and Turkish descent) and put them in forced labour camps across Canada. During World War II, Canada confiscated the property of Japanese Canadians, which was never returned, and interned whole families in camps. Some Canadians of German, Italian background and other “enemy aliens” were also interned. Canada has a sorry history of racism from treatment of Black Loyalists, to anti-Asian riots, anti-Jewish riots, anti-Greek riots and so forth. In Canada, many indigenous peoples were removed from their land, their religious practices banned by law, their governance systems replaced, and their kids taken away to residential schools where they were beaten, broken, many were raped and thousands died. The Government of Canada recently fought in court to keep records pertaining to the use of an electric chair on kids as young as six years old at St. Anne’s Residential School from being turned over to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s debatable whether Canada has any innocence to lose.

In fact, it strikes me as odd that all of a sudden, some people are waking up to terror for the first time, when other Canadians have had to live with terror on a daily basis all their lives. In Canada, women and children are most likely to be beaten, raped and killed by someone they know, often in their own homes. Many are still living in terror every single day. People living in the poorest  Canadian neighbourhoods also know the daily threat of violence all too well. Welcome to their world. Fear is not something new to Canadians, only to some Canadians.

In terms of broader acts of terrorism in Canada within my life time, I remember the Squamish 5, a group based in British Columbia which bombed the Litton plant. The Global Terrorism Database catalogues only 68 terrorist incidents for Canada, but some academics place it at hundreds of mainly low level incidents and attempts.

Europe and the US face armed right wing extremists such as Anders Breivik who killed 77 people in Norway and Timothy McVeigh who killed 168 and injured over 600 in Oklahoma. In Canada so far, violent right wing extremism has been mainly targeted at specific groups in the form of hate crimes. In 2012, there were 1,414 police-substantiated criminal incidents motivated by hate in Canada. About half (51%) were motivated by hatred of a specific race or ethnicity, 30% were motivated by hatred of a religion, another 13% by hatred of minority sexual orientations and the rest by other types of hatred.

In case you think I’m trying to paint Canada as a terrible place, I’m not. We like to think we are different, but in fact, racism, violence and marginalization are found everywhere in the world, including here. I’m glad that in Canada, we are free to talk about it, and to work together toward a vision of a peaceful, prosperous society in which all are equal and no one is left behind. We still have work to do.

There are people around the world who have to deal with terrorist threats every day, as well as threats from their own governments, families and neighbours. As a result of the attack in Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Harper had to cancel his meeting with Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. One fifth of Canadians were born outside of Canada. Some of these Canadians are refugees who have firsthand experience of the horrors of armed conflict and paramilitary raids. I remember doing some volunteer work helping a 16 year old girl in Ottawa write an essay. The topic was “What I like best about Canada.” She didn’t know how to put it into words on the paper. So I asked her, “What do you like best about Canada?” Her answer was that she didn’t have to constantly worry about bombs dropping from overhead. Her family was Kurdish, and had fled from northern Iraq, spending two years in a refugee camp on the Turkish border. She felt safe here. She felt she had a future.

The ethnicities, causes and ideologies associated with terrorist acts change. Legitimate grievances may be resolved or at least allowed democratic avenues of expression and incremental change. Destructive ideologies diminish when public support for them diminishes, which is why it is important never to play into terrorist or nationalistic narratives about wars between religions, cultures or classes. This is why turning on Muslim Canadians, for example, when Muslims have actually been the primary victims around the world of so-called “Islamist” extremists, is exactly what violent extremists want. Terrorists feed on conflict, division, suspicion and fear. Muslim Canadians stand united with all other Canadians against terrorism. We cannot let anti-Muslim sentiment divide us and poison Canada.

Although Canada has experienced many forms of terrorism based on many different causes and ideologies, currently, violent extremists who believe in a twisted interpretation of Islam are viewed as the primary terrorist threat. Some opinion leaders are approaching this challenge with outdated concepts of warfare. In the past, war was between primarily ethnically-homogenous nations. You could bomb and destroy the homeland of the “enemy”. The people were finite. They could only reproduce physically by having more children. Today’s warfare can go well beyond these boundaries. It is an ideological war in which the “enemy” can be mentally reproduced across national boundaries, and is therefore not at all finite in number. Dealing with such an “enemy” by bombing some part of the world is unlikely to stop it. Instead, the struggle needs to be also taken to where the warfare actually originates – on the ideological level. And this doesn’t mean beating your chest like a gorilla and re-stating your own point of view. You need to understand who you are dealing with and how to turn them away from the path they are on.

This is particularly true of an “enemy” that rises up from amongst us and works alone, leaving no communication or anything that authorities can intercept about their plans. With Canada’s elimination of the long-gun registry, authorities don’t even know if these extremist individuals own firearms. This is an extremely dangerous situation to be placing both police and the public. The policy is to identify individuals, and if they express a desire to go overseas and fight in ideological wars, take their passports away. That leaves frustrated would-be violent extremists here in Canada with no one to attack but Canadian targets, and the authorities with no knowledge of what means they have at their disposal.

Canada’s security apparatus were already familiar with Martin Couture-Rouleau, who deliberately ran over and killed Canadian soldier Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent with a vehicle in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu on October 20, 2014, two days prior to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s Ottawa attack. Couture-Rouleau had previously had his passport taken away as he had been identified as intending to go overseas to fight with Da’esh (ISIS/ISIL). As police have pointed out, it is difficult to arrest these people and have the charge succeed in court because the crime is based on something the suspect might do in future. Having extremist or any other thoughts is not against the law, nor should it be. Even if violent extremists were put in jail before committing a crime, which is contrary to Canadian principles of justice, that’s not an end to violent extremism as they could recruit more people in prison. If violent extremists work as a group and plan to attack a target, which is a crime, communications can be intercepted by authorities and the plan undermined. That’s what happened in the Toronto 18 case and others. However, isolated extremists working alone pose a particular challenge. They may be convinced that they are a part of an important and noble cause but communicate with no one, and that is a psychological battlefield.

The home front is not the only way in which warfare has changed. When today’s soldiers are sent to places like Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan, how do they determine who the enemy is? Someone can appear to be a friend and kill you. Someone may be labeled an enemy yet simply be committed to defending their homeland against foreign soldiers and influence, which is perhaps what any one of us would do if our country was invaded. In airstrikes against Da’esh (ISIS/ISIL), how can we be certain that already-oppressed civilians are not also being killed? How can anyone really be certain who is with Da’esh and who isn’t? Can we be certain that our actions are not creating brand-new recruits for the cause? How do we act in solidarity with people who are being attacked by paramilitary groups without appearing to be part of the problem? War was always bloody and fraught with uncertainty, but it was never as complicated as this.

Simplistic views of the world and expectations about masculinity feed into homegrown terrorism. Many people seem to believe, like the superhero and crime TV shows and movies they watch or the video games they play, that there is a clear distinction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. One of the most insidious ways that we teach our sons that violence is not only okay, but it’s brave and heroic, is by teaching them that there are good guys and bad guys, and that both sides use violence rather than negotiation or prevention to resolve problems. The good guys physically attack the bad guys to prevent them from killing others or to defend some ideal. With the current major terrorist threat, these very same arguments are used, except there’s a difference of opinion about who the good guys and bad guys are. Da’esh (ISIS/ISIL) supporters are defending an idea they believe in, feel the rush of being a part of a cause, and think that being killed/martyrdom is literally a ticket to heaven. They think western forces and Arab governments are the bad guys, to be stopped at any cost even at the expense of their own lives. This could be a Hollywood movie – the brave fighters sacrificing their lives for their buddies and ideals, not afraid to be tough and use violence to defend a territory – except for the casting.

Although there have been female terrorists, it is largely a male phenomenon. And machismo is also present in some of the reactions to terrorism, such as the Twitter idiots who were saying Canada capitulated because some soldiers were told not to wear their uniforms in conspicuous places when off duty. They claimed such an action “lets the terrorists win”. We are Canadian. Most of the time we are a sensible people who try to do the right thing. The right thing is to protect lives. Had we sent off-duty soldiers out as walking targets in a display of misguided masculine bravado, we would not have been Canadian. Hopefully, we will not let attacks such as this change our best qualities as a people, qualities that were developed the hard way over time. We should also think about what might actually bring about peace rather than acting out the same script with different actors. Perhaps it’s time to write a new script.

If we are going to prevent homegrown terrorism, we will do it with intelligence, knowledge and compassion, and we will start in daycares by teaching kids how to resolve problems without violence. We will do it through democratic reform so that people do not feel disenfranchised and helpless to change their country and the world. We will do it by teaching young people in schools how they can have a positive impact in the world, how to recognize and challenge efforts to recruit them into extremist ideologies, how to research what is actually happening and make decisions based on evidence, how to access mental health services and ensure appropriate services are there, and help young people develop a positive sense of identity and belonging so that they do not succumb to these false routes to glory. In fact, making positive change in the world doesn’t involve grand gestures or dramatic heroism, it is daily helpfulness, engagement and respect for others that truly creates a beautiful and functional world.

We can also do a lot more to support the people around the world forced to live with violence. Yet what actions to take, how much it will cost, what possible effects they may have and how long we can engage in these actions are a matter for national debate. Often there is a pressure to “do something”. What is more difficult is to determine what the right thing to do is, and whether Canadians are willing to see it through.

I can’t help but ponder the fact that the War Memorial/Parliament Hill gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was staying at a homeless shelter for a couple of weeks before the attack, behaving bizarrely, which may not be unusual for such shelters considering how many of Canada’s mentally ill are living on our streets and in our jails. His mother described him as “lost and did not fit in”. Whether it applies to this particular case or not, beefing up mental health support might save lives. Perhaps a more proactive and better-funded mental health outreach could have identified and treated people like Vince Li who decapitated a stranger on a Greyhound bus while in the throes of a psychotic episode. That was not considered a terrorist act because there was no political or ideological motivation, yet the victim is just as dead. There are thousands of people left on the margins, stewing alone in their own thoughts and delusions, or hooking up with other people who facilitate destructive views. Mental illness does not have to doom anyone. With treatment and social support, people diagnosed with mental health conditions can live good lives.

One of the reasons why I bring up mental illness is to put terrorism in Canada in perspective. Hundreds of Canadians have been killed over the years as a result of ideologically-motivated violence. However, in 2012 alone, 543 Canadians were murdered, 84% of them by people they knew. In 2011, seven times as many people – 3,728 people – in Canada committed suicide. Depression is one of our biggest mental health challenges, one that kills thousands of Canadians and millions of people around the world each year. So let’s put risk in perspective. In Canada, we are most at risk from ourselves. We are more likely to kill ourselves than have anyone else kill us for whatever reason.  If we broaden this to look at the risk of cancer (71,125 deaths in 2009 in Canada), heart disease (49,271 deaths in 2009), and diabetes (6,923 deaths in 2009), we are exponentially more at risk of dying from junk food and a sedentary lifestyle than we are from terrorism. However, nothing frightens us like guys with guns or bombs coming out of the blue every few years, even though it’s that bag of chips and the soda that will kill most of us.

Does the low relative risk of a terrorist attack mean we shouldn’t be prepared? Absolutely not. Safeguards and procedures should be in place. We also need to do the harder work of building an inclusive society in which there is help available to prevent people from going down dangerous paths. And that inclusive society will help us stand together when (not if) attacks occur.

Violent extremist ideologies offer a clear-cut view of the world, a purpose in life and a sense of camaraderie in a cause. You certainly don’t have to be mentally ill in order to be taken in, and most violent extremists are not mentally ill. In an uncertain world, many people thirst for certainty, meaning and community. Many people are outraged by injustices happening at home and around the world, and don’t know to do about it. Many people feel a sense of powerlessness and anonymity, and fantasize about being a hero. Some people want to be part of a group of friends or band of brothers doing something important. Some people gravitate to violent extremist ideologies because they seem to offer answers and avenues for action.

Given aspects of our history that I’ve only briefly touched on, I’m not sure Canada had much innocence to lose. The current challenge (or one of them) is to work together to prevent our sons, daughters and neighbours from ever reaching the point at which they think violence toward themselves or others is a good idea. We need to stand together across ethnic, religious, economic or ideological differences and realize that the actions of a few individuals do not reflect whatever ethnic or religious group they may be associated with or try to associate themselves with. We also need to understand that any religion or ideology can be hijacked and twisted to justify crime, as the past thousand years can tell us. At a time at which Islam was producing scientists and mathematicians, Christians were embroiled in sectarian violence, trying to take over other countries, burning witches, and torturing people in the name of religion. During my lifetime Catholics and Protestants were still at it in Northern Ireland, trying to destroy each other. In Canada, Christianity was imposed on indigenous people by force through residential schools in which kids were beaten for speaking their own languages and practising their own religious beliefs. We have now come out of that horrifying history, although vestiges of exclusion remain in some quarters. Through the majority of us cooperating with each other across language, religion, ethnicity and political differences we have built a largely peaceful and prosperous country which is just beginning to rectify the injustices of the past and present. No act of terrorism will shake us from this course, unless we let it.

And for those who think that this is just a narrative, an idealistic discourse about what Canada can be, you are right. It is by stating our goals that we can bring them into focus, and make them come true.

“Of all our dreams today, there is none more important – or so hard to realise – that that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.”

“But while we all pray for peace, we do not always, as free citizens, support the policies that make for peace or reject those which do not.”

– Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada from 1963-68, Nobel Peace Prize winner