Yesterday Americans were preoccupied with President Trump’s much anticipated appointment to the Supreme Court to replace the late Antonin Scalia. It seems it is all Trump all the time here these days, but of course life is going on in other places as well.
In Canada, my former home and America’s beloved neighbor, life has been going on in the face of great tragedy. Last weekend a man walked into a Quebec mosque and began shooting, killing six men and wounding five others. Fox News had to retract a tweet after the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s initial information was released claiming the shooter was of Moroccan descent. The CBC also erased their tweet containing the names of the two arrests, saying they could not verify who was a witness and who was the suspect.
CBC immediately removed the names of both Belkhadir and Bissonnette, until it could be ascertained which of the men who were arrested was the lone suspect.
CBC should be commended for their swift action, but the damage had been done and tensions flared. The alleged shooter was finally identified as 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette of Quebec City. Bissonnette – a university student – is being called a “conservative troll” who seemed to become more extreme in his hatred of Muslim immigrants over the last few years.
As Bissonnette began to espouse more radical views, he stopped interacting with his fellow students. He took part in at least one informal discussion group, but quickly found its members too moderate and stopped attending.
“He was not interested by our politics meeting because we are conservative and moderate right wing,” said Éric Debroise, a Laval University student and member of the discussion group.
“He is more far-right or alt-right.”
The prosecution of the murderer and the aftermath for Canadians, particularly the people of Quebec City, will continue to move forward, but as allies and neighbors it is important for Americans to stop and take a moment to offer our condolences to our friends and grieve with them as well.
Americans think very highly of Canadians and many find it hard to believe that there is such a thing as a hateful Canadian. Bissonnette’s crime is a terrible reminder that hate has no geography and no logic. It can reside in the most beautiful of countries, amongst the kindest of people. It is borne in the heart of man, the one place science and all our collective knowledge has never been able to peek into.
Americans know a bit about that kind of hate. When white supremacist Dylan Roof walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine black worshippers, injuring two dozen others, sensitive wounds already torn open in recent months were once again disturbed and rage, confusion and grief seemed to consume the nation. It is a particularly heinous sort of murder that happens in a house of worship. People were angry, but something amazing happened in the wake of such evil…people came together.
From across the country people of many different races, religions and ethnicities flocked to South Carolina to pray with the city and show support for the victims. Black men and white men worshipped together at the very site where hatred tried to sow division and they prayed for unity. It was moving. It was a precious peek into the true nature of the American spirit.
Canadians have always been known to Americans as polite and welcoming. Growing up as a black child in the province of Prince Edward Island, I faced my own battles with hate and racism. I remember them well, but more than that I remember the kindness and strength of good people and they outnumbered the horrible ones. Yes, they are polite and deferential, but there is also a grit and determination about Canadians that most Americans don’t know exist.
I know that in frustrating times like these last few days in Quebec, Canadians will draw on that characteristic grit and the kindness that they are well known for and can find the grace and unity that the brave residents of Charleston did in those days following their own loss. They may even find the faith to do what seems impossible – again, as the Charleston church victims and families did – forgive…forgive and extend grace to one another; the grace that can only come from a God who stands higher and loves far greater than we humans can comprehend.
These killings may have rocked the country and thrown it into unsure times, but in America we’ve seen that it can be tragic, terrifying times like this that end up bringing out the best in those around us, and become a platform the real nature of our national identity. This is our fervent hope for Canada as well.
Americans will continue to stand for Canada as a favored friend and pray for the victims and their families. We will not let the names of the murdered go unknown.