Media coverage of yesterday’s monstrous van attack in Toronto, which as of this writing is responsible for ten deaths and more than a dozen other casualties, was punctuated by political press conferences of the sort that are now an inescapable part of the dark theater of public tragedies. At his first appearance before the microphones, Mayor John Tory took the opportunity to declare that “these are not the kinds of things that we expect to happen in this city,” adding that “we hope they don’t happen anywhere in the world but we especially don’t expect them to happen in Toronto.” He was later joined by Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, who stated matter-of-factly that pedestrians being slaughtered en masse by homicidal lunatics “is not emblematic of who we are as a city or a province.”
Well, the tourism board can rest easy then, I suppose. Hearing this surprised, defensive pleading, which will no doubt increase regardless of whether the apprehended perpetrator of Monday’s attack winds up being a terrorist, a lone wolf, a lone nut, or whatever else, I was reminded of the aftermath of Canada’s last incident of mass public violence, the 2017 massacre of six men at a Quebec City mosque during prayers. That, too, Canada’s political class insisted, should not be taken to reflect poorly on the country. “It feels as though it doesn’t belong in Canada,” as Green Party leader Elizabeth May put it, shaking her head in parliament. Before that, it was 2014’s botched mass shooting on Parliament Hill by a self-radicalized ISIS sympathizer that was supposed to shock all good Canadians by being so brazenly out-of-character. And a few months before that, it was the assassination of three RCMP officers by an anti-government fanatic in Moncton, New Brunswick. And before that . . .
Many assume that violence, especially violence of the most sensational kind, obeys some kind of political logic. Progressives of the sort who dominate Canada’s governing establishment and news media seem to hold tightly the idea that mass, senseless killings are the type of thing that happens only in countries less perfect than their own, where worse social policy and a less wholesome patriotism spawns inevitable consequences. Proponents of this line of thinking learn to come up with tidy cause-and-effect theories that attribute blame to whatever monstrous variable they think their nation has skillfully avoided — guns, racism, imperialistic foreign policy — though this can often descend into embarrassing nonsense when stated openly. Here in Vancouver, I recall one of our former mayors blaming an uptick in gangland shootings on the “Americanization” of Canadian culture. When he first heard news of the Boston Marathon bombing, Justin Trudeau infamously speculated that whoever did it was surely “someone who feels completely excluded” from America’s mainstream.
The point is not to argue it’s impossible to diagnose “root causes” for certain styles of violence — to quote another thing Trudeau implored we do with Boston — nor that targeted laws can play no role in quelling them. Crimes have motives and social conditions can help foster them. The reason France doesn’t have Sri Lanka’s problem with Tamil separatists is obviously a byproduct of distinct political realities. There’s no shortage of politicians willing to vehemently insist that gun bans reduce shootings. Framing public violence as a sort of righteous social punishment, however, or forming an identity around a supposed talent at avoiding it, is a pride doomed to collapse in trauma the first time a killer doesn’t follow the script.
In nations like Canada, it’s important to the national psyche to consider monstrous public violence a distinctly ‘American’ thing
The evidence, easily gathered from all countries and cultures, suggests there is a certain degree of mass violence destined to strike, unprovoked, in any community of large enough size simply due to the tragic diversity of the human condition. There is an inclination, even attraction, of certain badly wired brains to treat other human beings as meaningless objects to destroy, and the sheer law of numbers suggests every nation, eventually, will wind up on their receiving end.
In the United States, which houses more human minds than all but two nations, there’s a growing, guilty numbness to public violence that citizens often struggle to properly process. Social media’s demands for performative empathy and politics coexist with lectures from number-crunchers about how the statistics don’t justify the sensationalism. There are constant demands to “do something,” but also a growing resignation that certain acts of homicidal psychopathy are simply too nihilistically random, cunning, and creative to ever be fully eliminated from the free society America aspires to be.
In nations like Canada, however, where it’s important to the national psyche to consider monstrous public violence a distinctly “American” thing, the limited capacity of ideology, culture, or public policy to explain the senseless is a lesson not yet learned. “It could never happen to us” is a logic that can help rationalize the terror of others, but it quickly turns into unflattering, chauvinistic shock once it’s discovered that no nation on earth has yet invented immunity to evil.
NOW WATCH: ‘9 Dead In Toronto Van Attack’