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“Canada will never be intimidated”

That is what Stephen Harper said when he spoke on television to the Canadian people after the dreadful events at the national war memorial and House of Commons in Ottawa last month. 

“Canada will never be intimidated.”

To be sure of myself I looked up the word intimidate in a number of dictionaries. The consensus seems to be that there are two parts to the meaning.  The first is to frighten, the second is to use that fright to make someone do what you want. The implication is that fear will make the frightened person do something they would not normally do, something they may even be opposed to.

Frankly, I admit openly that the first part of the word “intimidate” applies to me. I was definitely scared when I saw the events in Ottawa unfold on television, repeating endlessly. I was scared too and saddened when earlier in the week at St. Jean-sur-Richelieu Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was run down and killed by a vehicle driven by Martin Rouleau.     

As for the second part, the notion that I, as a Canadian, would be intimidated into doing something I was opposed to…well, it’s true…but it was already happening before these terrible things happened in our country. I hadn’t been standing up and shouting against the Harper government as a good citizen should. 

In the very same week that two Canadian soldiers were killed by two Canadian-born murderers, the Stephen Harper government, in my name as a Canadian, waved farewell and good luck to a half dozen fighter jets sent to bomb urban areas in the Middle East. That intimidates me, but it is Harper who is doing the intimidating. It intimidates me that Stephen Harper’s Canada, in my name, will be recruiting new terrorists among the surviving relatives and friends of those innocents soon to be killed in the inevitable collateral damage from our CF-18’s bombs. I am intimidated when mentally unbalanced citizens of Canada, their passports revoked to protect the wider world, roam where they wish at home, their damaged judgment prey to internet propaganda from jihadists abroad, and ill-judged foreign policy concocted in 24 Sussex Drive.       

A lot was said at the time of those horrific events in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa about the values of “our Canada”. Many Canadians are thinking about what we stand for as a nation.

As I watched the television footage from Ottawa I was taken back to my youth in that city. Dozens of times I have walked down the corridor in the House of Commons called the Hall of Honour, which Canadians now know best as the place where in a wild gunfight, Michael Zehaf Bibeau was shot by the Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Michael Vickers. I remember that hallway as the route I used to take when shortly after I got a driver’s licence I used to pick up my father and drive him home after evening sittings in the House of Commons.  

The footage from the war memorial took me back to the times we went there as a family on Remembrance Day to honour the fallen soldiers from wars in the past. I have stood where Corporal Nathan Cirillo fell. Against the backdrop of those places are intermingled my memories of a previous Prime Minister,  Lester Pearson who sometimes hitched a ride with us as far as  24 Sussex Drive which we passed as I drove my father home.

I remember Mike Pearson as a Prime Minister who was not easily intimidated himself. He would never have thought of throwing the word intimidate around as carelessly as it is today. In the first war he was a stretcher bearer and later a pilot suffering two crashes. His experience taught him that war was anything but glorious, rather it was a dismal failure of humankind’s ability to resolve disputes and was to be avoided if at all possible.

In 1956, an attack was launched on Egypt by Israel, France and the U.K. The U.S was outraged at having been left uninformed and the Soviet Union threatened a nuclear attack on forces from France and the U.K. the two European parents of Canada. The Middle East was faced with a major crisis.  

Pearson, our Minister of External Affairs at the time, held the post of President of the General Assembly at the United Nations. Caught among feuding Great Powers and possibly inspired by his youth playing hockey 

Pearson decided to play the referee. He hatched the plan to form a United Nations Emergency Force made up of soldiers from nations worldwide to be sent to the middle east to separate the warring sides. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1957. Our blue-helmeted peacekeepers were deployed around the world for decades bringing us admiration globally.

Today we have a Prime Minister whose disrespect for the United Nations is well known, and whose response to a crisis in the Middle East is to send six fighter bombers to back up the U.S.A. I think it is highly unlikely he will be nominated, much less awarded, the Nobel Peace Prize.  


Peter Pickersgill is an artist and writer in Salvage, Bonavista Bay. He can be reached by email at the following:          

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