We Canadians like to think that we are a boring and peaceful nation, that nothing much ever happens here, and everybody likes us. It therefore comes as a shock when we are attacked, as we were this week in Ottawa.
Yet terrorism is not a new phenomenon for Canada, as demonstrated by the assassination of one of the fathers of the confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, in 1868; by the murderous behaviour of the Front de Libération de Québec in 1970; and by the destruction of Air India Flight 128 in 1985. Our legislative institutions have been regular targets of attack. A Loyalist mob burned down the Parliament of Lower Canada in Montreal in 1848. In 1966 Paul Joseph Chartier brought dynamite into the House of Commons in Ottawa planning to kill as many MPs as possible, but managed to kill only himself. And in 1989 Charles Yacoub hijacked a bus and had the driver take him to Parliament Hill whereupon, claiming to represent the Liberation Front for Christian Lebanon, he fired several shots at tourists before eventually surrendering to the police.
The attacks this week appalled the country. On Monday, Martin Couture-Rouleau, the owner of an industrial cleaning company in the town of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, southeast of Montreal, deliberately drove his car into two soldiers, killing one of them, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Then, on Wednesday, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau – an itinerant with a number of convictions for drug offences and robbery – fired a rifle at one of the guards at the national war memorial in Ottawa, killing Corporal Nathan Cirillo. Zehaf-Bibeau then moved on to the nearby Parliament building where he was shot dead.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service had already identified both attackers as security risks. Zehaf-Bibeau had been denied a passport due to suspicions that he might commit terrorism overseas, and was apparently furious as a result.