It's one of those things that happens somewhere else. Unfortunately, Montreal is somewhere else to the rest of the world.
A man, reportedly in his mid-20s, walked into Dawson College in Montreal with an automatic weapon, opened fire against a mass contingent of students in the cafeteria, and eventually either turned the gun against himself, or was shot by police. There have been conflicting reports throughout the course of the day; some say there were up to three shooters, others give different descriptions. What has been confirmed is that two are dead (including the shooter) and at least nineteen have been injured (several seriously). No motive has been established.
Dawson College is part of the CEGEP network, the brief post-high school/pre-university phase we all go through in Québec. Many of my high school friends studied there, while I went through John Abbott College. I can't think of anyone right now, but I'm certain that I know current students of Dawson; there are only a handful of options for English-speaking students, and Dawson is definitely the most central one.
I was only 8 years old when a gunman entered École Polytechnique in Montreal, killing fourteen young women before killing himself. I didn't quite realize the ramifications of the event at the time. I was probably in Grade Three at the time; I remember writing about it for the "Current Events" journal we needed to keep back then.
It's incredibly frightening that such people exist in our own backyards. What are their motivations? How can someone foster that much hate, that they would be willing to just start killing people randomly? This is not Iraq or Palestine where people are growing up in the midst of violence, where everyday is a nightmare. This is Montreal, the home of hockey and smoked meat sandwiches; where does such hatred come from?
There is currently a murderer on the loose in downtown Vancouver, accused of killing a number of homeless people in the last few weeks. The murders have been occuring on the streets I walk everyday, yet no one knows exactly who is responsible, or what their motivation may be. The sad reality is that some people need no motivation; they have simply lost any trace of humanity they once had.
The motivation for the Dawson shootings remain unclear; perhaps, we'll never know. Media reports stated that there was no clear link to terrorism, but whatever happened clearly was an effort to terrorize innocent people. I imagine that for some twisted individuals, the posthumous glory is enough of a motivation; after all, there were several incidents of "copycats" in the wake of the Columbine massacre. The children responsible for that atrocity have left something of a legacy, however morbid. Whatever the motivation, there can be no justification. The students will never be the same, nor will the school itself.
For the average person like me, it hurts to feel so helpless. Being helpless against aggression and hatred overseas doesn't worry me as much as it should, because the physical distance is a legitimate barrier. But when you see and hear of these sorts of atrocities from your own city, it's another story altogether. Like many of us felt eleven years ago after the Toope murders, we are forced to ask ourselves, is there anything we could have done?
It's a bit of a conundrum; we'd like to think we can do something to prevent such senseless acts, but at the same time, we don't want to hold ourselves responsible. No matter what anyone does, no matter what efforts are in place to prevent such incidents, there will always be people who fall through the cracks.
Hopefully, we'll see the details unfold over the next few days as the investigation begins. Unfortunately, none of those details will change anything, nor make this any less of a crime against humanity, nor will it alleviate the suffering of any of the victims. Investigators will investigate, reporters will report, and bloggers will blog, but that will not stop haters from hating or murderers from murdering.
May we all be protected from hatred, injustice, and aggression. Ameen.