I’ve had a lot of thoughts and ideas swirling around in my head the last three days, but wanted some time to process them before I put them down. As a result, what I am writing might end up being very similar to pieces already out there, such as Eric Ritskies’ popular Dark Threats and the Normalization of White Terror: Aboriginals, Muslims & South Americans in the #OttawaShooting.
I was just waking up when I heard there was a shooting in Ottawa; as I often do with “breaking news,” I read about it on Twitter mere moments after it had occurred. My immediate thought went to the friends and family I have in the city–especially those working in government–and hoping they were unharmed.
As mainstream media began to cover the event in the next hour, more and more discrepancies began to be reported, and I more or less signed out of social media for the day. When any kind of crisis or disaster happens, I find that all that tends to be spread by mainstream media is a lot of misinformation. I did however keep checking facebook, waiting for friends to use the social media platform to “check in”.
As the day went on, I began to think more and more about Cpl. Cirillo and what his death signified. I am thinking about it specifically in respect to Elsipogtog and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, and Canadian military deaths more broadly.
First, a little over a year ago Mi’kmaq people’s from Elsipogtog First Nation created a blockade in protest of tracking that was met with RCMP violence. Shortly after Loretta Saunders’ body was found in February, an inquest was into the approximately 1200 missing and murdered Indigenous women was called for. I don’t mean to parallel these two very different events as in anyway similar, because they aren’t. Yet, they stand as recent and highly publicized examples of indifference to the lives and realities of Indigenous peoples that the majority of Canada possesses. More simply, Indigenous lives and concerns do not matter to most Canadians. I will come back to this point again once I’ve made my other two.
Second, on October 21st–a mere two days before the shootings in Ottawa–Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was killed in a hit-and-run in St- Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Vincent was purportedly close to retiring after nearly thirty years of service. Although Vincent’s death was highly covered in the news, it did not reach the same level of publicity as Cirillo’s.
Third and finally, in the twelve years Canada has been deployed in Afghanistan, 138 troops have been killed in action.
So why am I bringing these three points up? I think they are relevant to how Corporal Cirillo has been memorialized through media and on social media.
Cirillo was a white, twenty-four year old man, a father, who died while not on active duty at a memorial commemorating deaths from war in the nation’s capital.
The fact that Nathan Cirillo was a white man means that his death matters more than if he was of a different race or gender. We live in a heteropatriarchal society; the lives of white people are more important than those labeled Other, and the lives of men more so (and straight men even more so).
The fact that he was a father (and a beloved owner of two dogs) means he is kind and loving, and not a violent monster. Despite being in a profession that is associated with violence and imperialism, his personality humanized him.
Cirillo was only twenty-four when he was killed. His age and the fact that his family was also young makes his death more tragic: he is seen as having so much more to give but not being given the chance.
What is particularly illustrative in my opinion is where Cpl. Cirillo died: his death reinforces the valiance associated with military service, and in turn the legitimacy of Canada as a nation. Cirillo died protecting the physical land and political entity of Canada from a threat. This chain of events means that Cirillo has literally become a symbol of Canada, fighting against terrorism, and all that is ill with the world (which, of course, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is a symbol of too). Nathan Cirillo died to keep Canada free.
On land I should note that was never ceded by the Algonquin nation and is part of the largest land claim in Ontario to date (and has been since 1985). Yes, the National Capital Region sits on stolen Indigenous lands.
Since he was fighting a domestic threat (regardless of the land not legally being Canada’s) and not one “over there,” Cpl. Cirillo is remembered by name by the rest of the country, people lining up on bridges and overpasses to pay their respects as he made his last journey from Ottawa to Hamilton. When a solider dies overseas they are not given the same treatment; sometimes they are not even mentioned in the media.
Perhaps my analyzing of someone’s death makes me a monster. Maybe what I am doing is wholly inappropriate.
But I want to know why some deaths mean more than others: why him and not the 138 people serving in Afghanistan? Why him and not Patrice Vincent? Why him and not any of the Indigenous peoples who have served in the name of Canada in any of the previous wars?
Despite all of what I had said above, I am saddened over Corporal Nathan Cirillo’s death, as I am Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, Patrice Vincent and any other men, women or children who have died in the name of the geopolitical entity now known as Canada. As much as the official history tries to avoid it, Canada is not innocent or peaceful: Canada has been a violent place since the first settler-invaders came ashore.
Days later I am still not sure if Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was or was not diagnosed as mentally ill, if ISIS “claimed” his act of violence to make the organization appear more threatening, if fervent religiosity was somehow involved, or what the impetus was for him to shoot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in the first place. Given that Sargent-at-Arms Kevin Vickers shot and killed Zehaf-Bibeau, there will seemingly be a lot of conjecture.
There are two things I know for sure, however: first, folks like to throw around the word terrorist pretty damn liberally; and second, Canada and many Canadians are Islamophobic. Peace, order and good government in an accepting and multicultural nation, indeed.