It was during a Diwali cards party in Mumbai a delightful young playback singer and I were discussing her upcoming North American tour. And then she said:
“Have you heard about the shootings in Ottawa?” Huh?!
“In the Parliament?” Whaaaat?!
I was stunned. And days later it is still taking time to digest…
During the tragedy of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I drove through chaos, confusion, thousands gathering around the sobering and nerve-wracking sight of the exploded taxi in Ville Parle on my way home… while hearing updates about a friend trapped in the Oberoi Hotel. She didn’t make it…
And yet I still retained a naïve belief that Canada remains by and large a peaceful nation, unlikely to attract such attention either from within or without.
In India, we are inured to airport-type security checks to get into malls, hotels… basically any public place. Having convoys with traffic stopped to accommodate some ‘important’ person is common. Armed guards normal.
And yet I still harboured a rosy notion of Canada being a fair, sensible and considerate place. Unlike our neighbours to the south, we have prided ourselves with being a kinder, gentler, humane and open-minded nation. A home that celebrates being multi-cultural, safe, polite, considerate, generous and cares for its people, even when troubled…
Until I started thinking, is Canada still the country I knew?
- The Canada I knew had left of centre politics and defined itself partly by always being far more liberal than it’s friends south of the border.
- The Canada I knew was an early adopter of socialist medicine, believing everyone has a right to basic health care.
- The Canada I knew funded the arts, supported on national TV and radio creative off-beat programming, welcomed artistic debate and plurality of expression.
- The Canada I knew had the largest undefended border in the world – where virtually any kind of ID was sufficient to cross.
- The Canada I knew believed in education and second chances – if life dealt you a few hard knocks, you didn’t even finish high school but wanted to turn your life around? Why not try University as ‘mature student’… oh and there is modest funding too…
- The Canada I knew was slightly more welcoming than many other countries to those from far away lands – particularly those experiencing strife. And funded initiatives to support adjustment for individuals and families in their new home…
- The Canada I knew championed fair labour policies and employment insurance went to help out those in need.
- The Canada I knew had a military only engaged in peace-keeping operations overseas – never combat.
But is this the same Canada I return to visit?
The Canada I see today has systematically dismantled or radically altered one after another many of the very policies, programs and initiatives that enabled it to be a kinder, gentler, more open-minded and humane society.
So is it any wonder the Canada of today is no longer a stranger to violence in the heart of its capital?
It doesn’t make me any less upset, disappointed and saddened by the news. I feel for the families and hope something positive not reactive will come from what has happened.
However perhaps it is time to let go of my rose-tinted glasses…