Like most columnists, I’m usually inspired to write on topics that are aligned with my areas of interest. My usual fare is politics, history and economics, but I’ll sometimes write about art, sport, music, and even animation and comic strips.
Every once in a while, I’ll pick an issue that doesn’t perfectly fit in one of those wheelhouses. This is one of those moments.
Many Canadians were shocked to hear about a terrible incident that occurred on Monday afternoon. A rented white van going at top speed on Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard Avenues in Toronto struck a number of pedestrians.
The driver briefly escaped from the area, although he’s now in custody. At least ten people are dead and as many as 16 are being treated for injuries.
According to one eyewitness, Ham Yu-Jin, “This is not a car accident.” He told Metroland Media, “I was in my car and I saw a white van going on the sidewalk. I heard a big bang and the van hit a bus shelter and hit people. I turned my car on and chased the van. I’m so lucky, I could have been hit.”
As I write this column, the reason for this horrifying series of hit-and-runs is unknown. The driver could have had some sort of a breakdown or was mentally unstable. It could have been a means of targeting specific individuals or groups. It could have been an act of terrorism. Or it could have been none of the above.
We’ll have to wait and see.
Unfortunately, the first things that came to my mind were recent Islamic terrorist attacks in Europe of a similar nature.
There was the December 2014 attack with a similar van at the Christmas market in Nantes, France. That was followed by the July 2016 attack using a cargo truck during Bastille Day in Nice, France, and the December 2016 attack with a semi-trailer truck at the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.
It’s also difficult not to think about the 2014 shootings at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, the first true example of a homegrown terrorist attack on Canadian soil.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a convert to Islam, killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial with a rifle. He went on injure several people, including House of Commons Const. Samearn Son, and entered Centre Block. He was eventually shot and killed, thanks to the intervention of several brave souls, including then-sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers (now Canadian ambassador to Ireland).
With respect to Monday’s Toronto incident, the political ramifications are quite varied.
If it has to do with terrorism, Canadians must remain vigilant and not put their heads in the sand. If the driver turns out to be ill or disturbed, this will lead to a new discussion about federal and provincial funding related to treating mental health. If he was targeting someone, this becomes a municipal issue dealing with safety, security and policing.
And if it was something completely different, what on earth was it related to?
That’s a lot to digest in a short period of time. Nevertheless, it’s something that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory, among others, will have to deal with immediately and effectively.
Indeed, the attack in Toronto may not be tied to any previous European examples of using a vehicle to kill and injure people, or any acts of terror from 9/11 on. The fact that it’s so easy for many of us to think along these lines is both regrettable and, to be perfectly honest, part of our new reality.
I’m hoping that next week’s column returns to my usual fare of critiquing politics, politicians and political parties.
Alas, nothing is ever certain in the modern news cycle.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
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