Canada is a middle power country. A population of 36 million spread over ~ 10 million square kilometers of landmass (although most of us live along the US-Canada border or within a few hundred kilometers). But it’s a country that has made global headlines in 2018 whether by way of incendiary tweets in the eyes of the Saudis or retaliatory threats to the POTUS over tariffs. In global affairs, Canada is no longer the pushover whom President Xi Jinping of China was only happy to snub on Justin Trudeau’s last visit. It stands up to both Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia, the consequences in each case, however, are far from clear.
Domestically, Canada, especially Toronto, has finally been shaken awake from its decades of moral complacency in touchy areas like gun control and terrorism. On April 23, 2018, the first time in my life I was introduced to the term “Incel”, Toronto came face to face with a different reality – disturbed young men with a tendency to mow down innocent residents who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time – a common type of occurrence across the pond that has been transplanted to Toronto. On July 22, 2018, a lone gun man snuffed out the lives of innocent Torontonians and injured dozens on the beloved Toronto Danforth, a vibrant district full of life and commerce. And we thought the October 2014 Parliament shooting by a lone wolf was an anomaly. But just as we Canadians were shocked into disbelief by the Orlando nightclub shooting or the sheer evil of countless mass shootings in the US since Sandy Hook (what did Sandy Hook teach?), a new reality is brewing in Canada. When the US media reports on events in Canada, it does not portray Canada in the most positive light. Far from it. No country likes to make international front page news for copy-cat murder rampages through its city streets.
Canada was never prepared for the election of Donald Trump, a man who recently caused great embarrassment to Prime Minister Trudeau at the G7 summit, as if that was not humiliating enough. But the election of this man and the imposition of tariffs is only the beginning of Canada’s challenges. One can argue that Trump forms the background against which all events will play out; for one, the boisterous polarizing rhetoric that justifies hate and intolerance. Trump is blamed for tearing down NAFTA and casting doubt on a post-World War II consensus. Unfortunately, the events of Spring and Summer 2018 are a reminder that Canada faces other challenges that cannot be resolved through 140 characters. These issues go further back than Donald Trump. For anyone with a passing knowledge of world history, the relationship with Saudi Arabia has always been puzzling given the country has not endeared itself to Western countries except for its oil leverage. But why do we sell armored vehicles to that country? Like the rogue states of the world, Saudi Arabia is a thorn in Canada’s side; just as China shuts down all debate regarding its internal affairs, we have witnessed a similar reaction from Saudi Arabia – why would a middle power country dictate to another country? The challenge for Canada is how to exert influence without escalating these moral issues into international disputes resulting in the ejection of the ambassador and selling off of assets, hopefully without the aid of Twitter.
The Canada-Saudi Arabia spat, though, may seem trivial compared to the random acts of violence in the streets of Toronto in 2018. Canada is no longer the safe harbor of the world. But Canadians are wise not to draw inferences from these two incidents, thanks to an informed citizenry. Neither event can be attributed to a single root cause because we can never get a full picture of someone’s psychological make-up. Canadians have made the right choice not to jump to any conclusion unsupported by evidence. The Canada of 2018 is of a different species than it was even in in 2017; with more interconnectedness due to social media, all of us are constantly exposed to information where the line between truth and fiction is often blurred. To prevent these nonsensical acts, it is wise for all of us to invest the time to learn the type of information being fed into the minds of these young men and indeed every one of us. Politicians have opportunistically capitalized on the power of social media to disseminate their messages in moral persuasion or to mislead. One of the greatest challenges now is to sift fact from fiction. As important as ramping up resources in law enforcement, we also need to keep in mind that we no longer live in a vacuum and information, true or false, travels at the speed of light, shaping our minds in a way that can distort the world.