Not a National Threat, but Is It Terrorism?
On Canadian Soil
No Motive Yet - And We Want Answers
It's fair to say that after the van attack that took 10 lives and injured 16 in Toronto on April 23, many of us are still shaken. After all, this is Canada, and we pride ourselves - perhaps a bit naively at times - on being a peaceful nation that's very accepting to everyone. This is not to say violence has not occurred here; if you run a Google search of "terrorism Canada," one of the most recent examples occurred on September 30, 2017, when Abdulahi Sharif struck and stabbed Edmonton police constable Mike Chernyk. There's also the fatal shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo on October 20, 2014, who left behind a very young son when he succumbed to his injuries, or the ramming incident two days after that, with Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent dying of his injuries. To be sure, what happened in Toronto on April 23 is probably one of the most horrific incidents to hit Ontario in recent memory, and as those affected by the incident try to pick up the pieces of shattered lives and rebuild, we cannot help but wonder if what happened is the result of terrorism.
We have no answers yet - that's going to take a while, and according to the most recent news reports, no one is using the term terrorism, but let's take a look at some definitions.
If you look up "terrorism definition" in Google, you get the following: "a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims." Strictly speaking, if you were to consider what a terrorist does, you only need to look at the root of the word - terror - in much the same way that if you didn't know what a botanist did, you'd look at the root of the word and work from there. Therefore, we can argue that political aims aside, a terrorist's "job," if you will, is to inflict terror, which is, of course, defined as "extreme fear."
Can we say that extreme fear resulted from yesterday's attack? For God's sake, we're referring to it as an attack, not an incident, so that would be indicative of a high level of violence, which generally results in a whole lot of fear in its aftermath.
We have no idea - yet - what the van driver was thinking in the minutes, hours and days prior to this heinous attack. We have no idea what put him behind the wheel of a van that day and what he was ultimately trying to achieve by killing 10 and wounding 16, irretrievably shattering the lives of those directly affected and those who witnessed what happened in real time.
All of that said, while we don't know if there was any sort of political motivation behind the attack, we can look at the result.
People were - and probably still are - terrified.
People will no doubt be looking at their safety on the streets on an ongoing basis every time they choose to walk somewhere.
These two items alone can lead us to conclude that if we were to look at a terrorist's job strictly as the infliction of terror, the driver of that van is indeed a terrorist.
Invariably, when terror strikes, people end up changing their patterns of behavior, at least in the short term, because they are motivated by fear. Again, a terrorist can look at the result of an attack and if this change in behavior does occur, they can consider at least part of what they hoped to achieve successful.
Who wouldn't be motivated by fear after an attack of this nature? I'd certainly be reconsidering - at least in the short term - going on a leisurely stroll with my family, or letting my two kids go for a walk to the store.
We need to reconsider the overall definition of terrorism without the political connection. Put simply, not everyone is "wired right" in this world, and sometimes, the motivation to strike fear in people is not necessarily political in nature.
If it comes to light that the van driver had no political affiliations, where does that leave our understanding of what happened? If we call it a terrorist attack, we can look at it and say, "Oh, no! Another attack on Canadian soil." If it turns out the driver is not affiliated with a terrorist organization, media outlets will likely refer to it as "senseless violence."
Isn't all violence senseless?
10 people have lost their lives, and 16 people who were injured in this horrific attack are fighting to rebuild. The families and friends in the immediate nexus of these 26 individuals are all trying to make sense of this.
How can we?