Somehow, for so many, Canada seemed beyond the reach, or even interest, of Islamic extremist terrorists.
We sat secure and perhaps just a little smug behind our porous borders, and offered sympathy and, in some cases, self-righteous judgment, as our U.S. neighbours writhed in shock and grief after a group of terrorists flew jet airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing thousands.
We watched television reports of subway bombings in Britain and terrorist acts in France. We sent our soldiers to Afghanistan, where they fought alongside Americans to stem the fundamentalist Taliban tide.
With detachment, we followed the civil war in Syria, and with varying degrees of understanding or disinterest, watched it birth an entity that matched and eclipsed the brutal violence of al-Qaeda, responsible for the 9/11 attack. Also driven by extremely twisted interpretations of their religion, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, poses the intensely dangerous threat of destabilizing the entre Middle East, and exporting its extremist visions around the globe.
The Harper government recently decided – and rightly so – to send Canadian F-18 combat aircraft to join the coalition currently bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria in a long-term attempt to blunt their advances and agendas.
Through it all, most Canadians went about their daily business, some unaware, others simply unconcerned.
This is Canada after all, home of the wonderfully free and mildly naive.
And then on Monday, a young man, apparently inspired by the online urgings of an Islamic fundamentalist recruiter, “martyred” himself by driving his car at two Canadian soldiers on a street in Quebec, killing one of them. The assailant was later slain by police.
Two days later, the shock waves went to the core of the country from coast to coast, as a gunman fatally shot a soldier standing sentry at the National War Memorial near Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The assailant then went into the Parliament buildings, where multiple shots were fired, and he was eventually gunned down by the sergeant-at-arms.
Early indications are that he too was a subject of extremist Islamic indoctrination. He chose, or perhaps was instructed, to strike at one of the most prominent symbols of Canadian identity.
We can consider Canada to be on the list of nations of non-believers in the twisted minds of those who mangle their faith in justification of atrocious acts of violence and attempted dominance.
How terribly ironic that the soldiers who died in these incidents joined the forces to protect the very freedoms that are being abused by terrorists who live in this country, believe as they wish, and teach their evil in gatherings and via the Internet and social media.
That’s the truly unsettling factor in this. These individuals did not arrive in this country mere days or even months ago, foreign imported killers bent on violence. They grew up in our cities and towns. They may have received their indoctrination in the country, or from online sources from anywhere in the world.
Regardless, Canada has homegrown terrorists. How many more are out there? What do they intend to do?
It sounds cold, but compared to 9/11, this week’s incidents are small. The perpetrator(s) could easily have sent a hail of bullets into a bus full of school children or a shopping mall crowded with shoppers. They could have poisoned a community’s water supply or sent an explosives-laden truck into the midst of a Remembrance Day ceremony.
Or maybe something like that is yet to come.
It would be highly unrealistic to believe this is over. It would be wildly naive to think the authorities can detect and prevent all other further attacks.
Canadian laws don’t permit law enforcers to arrest and detain for an indeterminate time anyone who merely talks about religious extremism, or even openly supports it.
This is, after all, a free country.
Now the acutely difficult challenge is to preserve it, from within.