Normalcy seemed to make a quick Canadian comeback last week when CBC Radio convened a media panel to discuss how well the media covered the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill.
The consensus was that CBC did a brilliant job, which seems true but signaled something more. When our village solipsists feel free to turn the public conversation back to themselves again, you sense the world returning to its established order.
There were signs that ordinary citizens who never ride the airwaves of the public broadcaster were also coming back to life as usually lived. Even as Nathan Cirillo's body was given the deserved due of a fallen soldier's ceremonious return home to Hamilton, civil servants, construction workers, and moms pushing tot carriers were lining up on Ottawa's Spark Street pedestrian mall for a Poutine Fest.
Forty-eight hours before, the mall between Bank and Elgin streets had been in armed locked down as police hunted a rumour swirl of potential jihadi terrorists said to be on the loose. But on Friday, in bright, late October sun, on a day whose pleasant warmth will be the stuff of sweet nostalgia next January, food trailers had been lined up so heaping plates of French fries, gravy, and glutinous cheese curds could be gorged. One of the longest waits was for shwarma poutine at a place called Fadi's.
On Parliament Hill itself, the main wrought-iron gates remained closed to the public. (They would re-open the following day and Canadians, God bless you all, would flood in to reclaim and honour their democratic space.) Still, my official plastic press gallery pass, bearing no more than my smiling phizog, was enough to permit me past the pleasant police officers guarding the gap in the fence. At the top of the steps leading to the main entrance beneath the Peace Tower, a lone Mountie gave my pass a brisk once over and sent me on my way with a thank you.
Entering the Hall of Honour, I braced for evident signs of carnage left behind by gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau's mad burst of shooting and, ultimately, being shot down by as many as 20 bullets from pursuing police. There were none.
It was hard not to spot one radical change: security officers inside Parliament now carry handguns on their hips. Otherwise, all was so quiet you could have shot a proverbial cannon from the front entrance to the library of Parliament doors and disturbed nothing but a TV news crew hunting for bullet marks in the walls.
The single overt sign of damage was to the memorial plaque at the very spot where Zehaf-Bibeau died. There's a notable gash in the stone tableau erected by the Nurses of Canada to commemorate "their sisters who gave their lives in the war of 1914-1918 ... led by the Spirit of Humanity across the seas." How fitting, given the source of Zehaf-Bibeau's crazed ideological violence, that the spirit of humanity of across the seas should be most visibly in need of repair.
What remains to be seen, of course, is how we treat what is out of sight, invisible beneath the surface calm. As a country we came literally within stray bullet inches of our sitting prime minister and perhaps dozens of our MPs being killed within the precincts of our Parliament. One MP said to me privately, quoting a colleague: "We are all Israelis now." That is, we have been forced into a lived sense of ourselves as the targets of attack—realized and pending. We will go on to talk of other things. Our fundamental order will not change. But neither will we be able to forget that our history now includes the awful abnormality of what happened last week.