For a great number of Canadians, particularly those too young to remember the Second World War, Remembrance Day is not the day of intimate commemoration it was for previous generations. Canadian engagement in Afghanistan, however, has once again bestowed on this solemn occasion more immediacy. That said, most young Canadians who file into school auditoriums for the recitation of “In Flanders Fields” and a moment of silence understandably may not experience the same emotional reaction as their parents or grandparents who participated in or lost loved ones in the world wars.
This Nov. 11 will probably have poignancy beyond the routine, though, because of the tragic events of recent days. Our country is mourning Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was murdered last month in Quebec, and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot at the National War Memorial in Ottawa two days later.
The murder of Cirillo was immediately followed by a dramatic shootout at the heart of our democracy, the Parliament Buildings, in which the assassin and thankfully no one else was killed.
The symbolism of the latter shootings is unambiguous. A killer – maybe deranged, maybe driven by ideology, maybe a bit of both – kills a military official standing guard at the icon of Canada’s military sacrifices, then heads directly to the legislature of our country, apparently intending further destruction.
Reaction has varied intensely. American 24-hour news outlets treated the occasion with typical spectacle. Canadian media have been credited with exhibiting characteristic Canadian moderation. Canadians have not, evidence so far suggests, gone hog-wild in demanding the swapping of human rights for physical security. A typically Canadian assessment will be made about whether elected officials should have greater protection, but there has been minimal hysteria about an imminent invasion by terrorists.
These incidents, of course, raised the inevitable fears and allegations. Both crimes were perpetrated by men who were newly observant Muslims. Yet, there is minimal evidence that either was in any way connected to a larger Islamist network or that religious fanaticism was a greater driver than grave psychological or emotional troubles.
Still, there was reaction in the unlikeliest of places. In Cold Lake, Alta., a mosque – talk about a little mosque on the prairie – was a hate-crime target with, among other things, “Go home” spray-painted on its exterior. In what was the perfect Canadian response, locals showed up to clean off the graffiti and festoon the place with signs, including one with the message “You ARE home.”
There may be a place for hate-crimes legislation and certainly there are laws against vandalism, but the greatest reaction of all is individual members of a community coming together to undo – literally and figuratively – the hatred purveyed by a minority of bigots.
As we prepare to mark Remembrance Day Tuesday, members of our community also gather Sunday night to mark the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. This date marks the horrible moment when the incremental threats of the Nazi regime moved from words to deeds, and the intimidations of successive antisemitic laws moved toward the grisly realities of the Final Solution.
Kristallnacht also holds particularly fresh import in a world where Jewish shops and people this year have been subjected to attack in Europe and elsewhere. Both of these solemn days call on us to consider events of the past and to be vigilant in the present. Lest we forget.