The second casualty of the Ottawa shooting

October 30, 2014
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

By: Ben Robinson

In the wake of last week’s shooting on Parliament Hill it is important to try and understand what really motivated the events in order to avoid them in the future.

At first, with the limited information available, there was speculation that it must be a terrorist attack, perhaps somehow associated with ISIL. Whenever a shooting like this happens, there is a scramble in the media to try and learn as much about the people involved as possible.

But the details that are reported are not always innocuous as they seem. Michael Zehef-Bibeau, the man who shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, was immediately connected with a mosque that he attended three years ago. If it had been reported that he went to a certain church three years ago would that have been deemed relevant to print?

It was also reported that Zehef-Bibeau applied for a Libyan passport, not so subtly implying a connection to North Africa. It is strange that something as mundane as a passport application would be deemed newsworthy when the same article states that Michael Zehef-Bibeau's family is from Libya and that he was hoping to visit them. The limited details the press chose to focus on about Zehef-Bibeau being tied to Libya and Islam seem to be more distracting than edifying. Thus, this all too familiar characterization of “the shooter” directs readers toward an assumption that this was yet another terrorist attack by a Muslim extremist with ties to North Africa.

To explain this away with the palatable yet highly reductive motive of terrorism may ease the dissonance for those struggling to comprehend how this could happen to the “true North strong and free.” But it also leaves individuals feeling powerless to do anything. The spectre of terrorism often seems to loom too large for people to do anything other than be angry.

A recent CBC report confirmed that the man behind the shooting, Michael Zehef-Bibeau, had been arrested multiple times and on multiple occasions came forward to police asking to be taken into custody. In one instance he went as far as telling police “I wanted to come to jail so I could clean up,” and "if you release me what's going to happen again? Probably the same loop and I'm going to be right back here again.” This man was self-aware enough to know that he posed a risk to others in his current state and so for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to come forward and say “our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest” in response to the shootings misses the point.

There was no need for surveillance or detection in this case; Zehef-Bibeau was forthright about the support he needed from various government agencies, and he was denied. The importance of mental health funding is more apparent than ever as we now know the consequences of neglecting it. This issue was brought literally to the steps of Parliament Hill, right outside of Stephen Harper’s door. Hopefully the real story will not be drowned out amidst the cries of terrorism.

Terrorism necessitates a greater cause, something for the public to be scared of. Who is to be feared in this situation? This was not terrorism. This was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Let's put away the calls for increased police presence and begin the preventative mental health work that so clearly needs to be done. Not one, but two men died on Parliament Hill last week, and both deaths could have been avoided.

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