OTTAWA – Canada has until now dodged a terror attack even as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others had warned that the nation, whether from Islamist extremists or lone wolfs looking to settle some real or imaginary grudge, was vulnerable.
“It’s hard to see how this won’t change things,” said Andrew MacDougall, a former director of communications for Harper who’s now a consultant in London at MSLGroup. “To see my former place of work lit up in a blaze of gunfire is shocking, disheartening and worrying.”
Ottawa had reveled in its reputation as an orderly, quiet government town of about 1 million people where violent crime – never mind gunplay – is rare.
What would be a shocking series of events in any nation is even more so in Canada, where security at many public buildings is minimal.
Until recently, security guards at Parliament – where more than 10 shots could be heard in a mobile phone video recorded by a Globe and Mail journalist – were unarmed.
In Toronto’s financial district, home to the headquarters of Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, and the local offices of dozens of foreign financial institutions, most office buildings have no barriers preventing passers-by from riding elevators to any floor they please.
The attacks are also likely to add fuel to a simmering, more than decade-long debate over the country’s participation in U.S.-led military operations in the Middle East that has divided political parties and public opinion.
Harper authorized air strikes earlier this month against Islamic State militants for as long as six months, telling Parliament that group’s threat “is explicitly directed, in part, against this country.”
“Canada will never be intimidated,” and will redouble efforts to combat terrorism, Harper said in a televised address to the nation Wednesday night. “We will learn more about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had” in the days ahead, Harper said.
Police in a press conference said Couture-Rouleau, who had converted to Islam, was being investigated by police due to comments he made on his Facebook page indicating he was becoming “radicalized.”
Just over a decade earlier, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau briefly declared martial law in Quebec to stop a series of bombings by a nationalist group.
The Ottawa attack feels different, leading politicians to conclude the country has changed permanently. “It will impact on our dialog of how we live in this country,” Liberal Party Member of Parliament John McKay said of the violence in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “This is the kind of day that changes everything.”