I was born in Ottawa. I grew up in Ottawa. I studied in Ottawa. I work in Ottawa. Ottawa is in my DNA, as it is for more than a million other people in this northern capital. This week’s attacks, in which armed men stormed the Canadian Parliament, hit just a few hundred metres from my office, shutting down my usual lunch-spots and other work-week haunts.
Before this week, this sort of thing was unimaginable in Ottawa. This usually quiet G7 capital is a proper city, but in some ways feels like a village – the sort of ‘big village’ where the business district empties after 6 pm and it’s difficult to find a good 24-hour restaurant. Ottawa is the kind of city where, when something big is happening, one tends to know someone who was personally involved, or at least a friend of a friend.
Whatever the motives of this week’s attackers, whatever drove them to kill a reservist guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this was an act of extreme cowardice. It’s a wimpy move: only a small-minded man could kill the 24-year-old father of a school-aged son.
Yet it is precisely at times like these that we recognise our real heroes, our champions: they are the people living, working or visiting the Canadian capital, who kept their cool during the horrific events on this crisp October Wednesday; they are the police, the firefighters and the paramedics who maintained their calm professionalism in the face of unknown terror.
The fear that follows such events will not stop Ottawans from living our everyday lives, regardless of creed, language or ethnic origin. Ottawa is more diverse than it has ever been – a wonderful thing, as visitors and immigrants from the four corners of the world have made our city richer and more prosperous.
There will be a temptation to let Wednesday, October 22 be the day that everything changed in Ottawa. I’d prefer it be the day that Ottawans let it be known that nothing would change – that we will not be intimidated by terrorists. In this small and – yes – sometimes boring town, full of everyday champions, we faced a shocking situation with dignity and sangfroid. Jihadists, take note: Ottawa is stronger than ever.