Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ottawa - should we let fear change us?

In the middle of the morning out here in California, I heard about the attacks in Ottawa, Canada. Having made several visits to Ottawa, and having stayed near the Parliament Hill area (once I visited an ice sculpture competition on Parliament Hill - yes, Ottawa can get cold), the news was especially upsetting.

But it was more upsetting to those who have spent significant time in Ottawa. Jon Krier, a dual Canadian-American citizen, spent two years living outside of Ottawa. Those two years were 2004 and 2005, so they occurred after the September 11 attack on the United States, and (obviously) before today's attack in Canada. Krier observed the difference between the two countries in 2004-2005:

I moved to Canada in large part out of anger at the fear driven changes in America following September 11, 2001. I hated the evisceration of the US Constitution and the poorly planned aggression of the only country I had ever called home (I was born in Canada, but had never lived there before 2004). I decided that I would take advantage of my Canadian citizenship and move to a country that had not abandoned its values and founding principles out of fear.

The thing that made me most happy to be in Canada while I lived there was the openness of Parliament. Even before 9/11 the US Capitol was extremely secure. The seat of American power is locked and walled away from the people of the US. Walls and guards separate the White House from its subjects. Before I moved to Ottawa it never even occurred to me that there could be a different way of doing things. It blew me away when I moved to Canada that I could just walk right up to Parliament anytime I wanted.

Even in Ottawa, Krier could notice a difference in attitude between the US and Canada.

The US Embassy in Ottawa is a post-modernist interpretation of a submarine, surrounded by neo-classical buildings and castles. After 9/11 the US embassy blocked off a lane of traffic surrounding the building in the middle of downtown Ottawa with jersey barriers. Inside of those Jersey barriers was a row of pylons with steel shafts that extended underground designed to stop tanks. Inside of that row of pylons is a tall fence made of pointed metal and concrete. The walls look to be several feet thick and the glass appears to be bulletproof, and there is no evidence of any windows that can be opened. The entire structure is surmounted by a brooding turret.

In his post - "Dear Ottawa: Don't Let Fear Change You" - Krier hopes that today's attacks don't cause Canada to be less open, or for its government to become insulated from its citizens.

Sadly, I suspect that Krier's wish won't be granted. Experience has a way of modifying your behavior. I obviously am not Canadian, so I don't know if Canadians have been walking around with a sense of innocence. However, I suspect that a desire for safety will cause changes in Canada.

I'm going to tell a story about my own country - a story that predates 9/11 by several decades.

Gerald Ford was President at a time when there were concerns over his predecessor's "imperial" Presidency, so it behooved Ford (as it behooved his successor, Jimmy Carter) to be as open as possible. Thus, on September 5, 1975, President Ford was walking down a street in Sacramento, California. As Ford later recounted, he was walking by the crowds when he suddenly saw a gun pointed toward him.

Luckily for Ford, the gun didn't go off.

However, the threat of a Presidential assassination, with all that would happen to the country, was a sobering thought. This was decades before the coordinated, multi-city attacks on 9/11, but even in 1975 there was significant worry about the threat to our country. Ford couldn't have been blamed if he decided to hunker down behind a security perimeter and keep away from everybody. Above all, one would expect that even if Ford didn't take such a drastic step, he wouldn't take unnecessary risks in California. We're all crazy here, you know.

However, as many of you recall, less than three weeks later - on September 17, 1975 - Gerald Ford was walking down a street in San Francisco, California. There he met a woman named Sara Jane Moore, and, as Moore herself recalls, she pointed a gun toward Ford.

This time, the gun did go off, but the shot was deflected away from the President.

Several years later, someone did manage to hit a President (Ronald Reagan) with a bullet, and as a result our Presidents live their lives behind a security perimeter, walled off from the outside world.

While this obviously has its disadvantages, it helps to make sure that the President doesn't die in office. And since no U.S. President has died in office since 1963, I guess that the increased security has served its purpose.

But at a cost.

And I suspect that the people in Canada are about to go through the same process.
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