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Editorial: Tested in Toronto

People bow their heads in silence at a vigil on Yonge Street in Toronto, April 24. Ten people were killed and 14 were injured in Monday’s deadly attack in which a van struck pedestrians in northern Toronto. — Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press
People bow their heads in silence at a vigil on Yonge Street in Toronto, April 24. Ten people were killed and 14 were injured in Monday’s deadly attack in which a van struck pedestrians in northern Toronto. — Galit Rodan/The Canadian Press

The first news always makes your heart sink.

The thin shallow trickle of it at first, and then the way it grows.

A van on the Toronto sidewalk, hitting pedestrians. At first, it’s nine injured, then 14. Then one dead, then nine, then 10. We are only now learning who some of those people were, as their families and friends mourn.

And all the time, the fear of what such an attack means for us and for the safety of Canadians.

Always the questions: Could it possibly have been an accident? Terrorism?

Because terrorists have done this in plenty of places: France, Spain, Britain, Germany, the United States.

People grappling with mental illness have done this kind of attack as well, in some cases out of a compulsion to want to be known and feared.

And always those twin questions — could it happen here? Could it happen to someone I love?

What do we do now? We watch and we listen, and above all, we try to keep from leaping to dangerous and violent conclusions.

The answer to both is “yes,” although it should be stressed that it’s early days yet and the motives and leanings of the attacker are not yet clearly known. The investigation won’t be over for days or even weeks.

It may sound trite, but there is something to be said of who we are in this country by what happened after the attack — in the way passers-by came to the aid of the injured and the dying, and the behaviour of Const. Ken Lam, who stopped the suspect — a man who appeared to be aiming something at the officer (reportedly a wallet). The officer made the arrest without injury, something people commented on with amazement from across North America.

What do we do now? We watch and we listen, and above all, we try to keep from leaping to dangerous and violent conclusions.

Just days ago, we heard from a courtroom in Quebec about how whipping up racial fears can cause a deadly backlash; it certainly did that in a mosque attack in 2017.

The attacker in that case, Alexandre Bissonnette, said he chose the Quebec City mosque because of his fears about what Muslim terrorists would do to him and his family — a fear stoked by those who inflame racial paranoia for their own personal and political profit.

What we can do is, collectively, to keep Canada as peaceful and tolerant a country as we can.

We can trust in the rule of law and the process of our courts, and we can recognize the dangers of taking the law into our own hands and of accepting the role of judge and jury in the absence of fact.

Jumping to conclusions and making snap judgements will only push us further apart.

We want this country to be a better place — this is the kind of test that brings out what kind of country we really are, and what we can be.

Let’s not fail that test out of fear or intolerance.

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