A reflection on Canadian identity in a moment of crisis

By Joana Cook,
Editor-in-Chief, Strife


Today Canadians watched in horror as Ottawa was locked down when at least one gunman opened fire at the national Parliament, forcing politicians to barricade doors, journalists to dive for cover, all while streaming live across national and international media. When the dust settled, one reservist and one gunman lay dead and a nation stood in shock.

Within a week of each other, two separate (and as of yet unlinked) incidents seemingly targeted symbols that Canadians hold dear – our capital city, our democratic institutions, a memorial to our fallen, our armed forces. Even amidst our own acknowledged rising threat levels, a country which had appeared to cautiously contain and manage the plots present in other nations is never prepared to see one unfold before their eyes. It is perhaps premature to reflect at this point, but in the thralls of the narratives, imagery and symbolism which flows forth in (real) times like these, the implications of these will impact upon Canadian consciousness for some time to come.

As a country in the midst of present and shifting global tensions and concerns, we have struggled with our evolving identity. Are we still the Canada of peacekeepers? Has our role in Afghanistan redefined us? How and why are extremists emerging from our own backyard? How do we envision our role in this world amid seemingly increasing violence?

These tragic events may have just reaffirmed how we view ourselves as Canadians, while also offering a starting point to rethink the broader questions above. We are a country which, when faced with the unthinkable, still reverts to unification, quiet and humble heroism, and the ‘level-headedness’ we have always held dear.

We sent tweets, messages and emails to those affected in Ottawa stating our support with them. We stood together as Canadians. We proved this with statistics.


We praised those who kept cool heads in the thralls of confusion, who didn’t ‘kill’ the terrorist, but instead ‘took down’ and stopped the attacker.

level head

The actions of our everyday citizens spoke louder than words…


… while Canadians of all political affiliations and faiths spoke with the same message.


Perhaps most telling is the show of support and response to the soldier killed today while on duty. We will not see the same for the shooter.


Few in the national media directed the blame, or cited a motivation from the onset. We questioned, we scrutinized, but we did not point fingers carelessly. We were cautious with our language, phrasing and insinuation. We understand the weight that words can carry.

As the story unfolds in the coming days, we will find out more about the shooter. We will analyse the perpetrator’s plot and motivations, social profiles, background, and networks, as we should. We will need to understand what could instigate such violence, how and why it could be carried out, and how we can prevent such events in the future. We cannot afford to be naïve; there are many emerging risks we face and many challenges still to come.

As Canadians, we will continue to question the policies we form to address these, as well as their impacts. We will challenge the roles we take, and the ways and means by which we deal with new and uncertain problems that come our way. This is our right and our duty.

However, I believe we will do so knowing that in the face of those things which may challenge and frighten us, Canadians can act as an example of how to navigate such waters together with poise, thoughtfulness, and a remembrance of the values we hold dear as our guide. We will do so knowing that even if such hate can permeate certain individuals, these are not reflective of the overwhelming majority of our citizens.

If it is in tragic and painful moments like this that our identity as Canadians is shaped and reinforced, then I am confident we will, together, weather the storm and only emerge stronger as a nation.


Joana Cook is the Editor-in-Chief of Strife and a PhD researcher at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London where she focuses on the role and agency of women in counterterrorism. She is also a Research Affiliate with Public Safety Canada and member of the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS). You can follow her on Twitter @Joana_Cook. All views are her own.

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