Toronto van killings : strong city that ignores painful truths joins real global village at last

May 2nd, 2018 | By | Category: In Brief

It was strange being in the USA (well, California at any rate) when a 25-year old man from Richmond Hill was reported to have deliberately driven a rented van along the sidewalk on north Yonge Street in Toronto, killing eight women and two men, and injuring another 16.

At least the TV we were watching in Petaluma, CA (CNN, MSNBC – same as we watch in Toronto actually) – noted the kinder and gentler way the Toronto police soon enough got their man (with special reference to the deft use of minimum force by Constable Ken Lam).

Yet catching up on what had happened when we returned to town several days later was not altogether easy.

There was a “Toronto Strong” vigil at Mel Lastman Square on north Yonge Street, on the evening of Sunday, April 29 – not quite a week after the tragic events of Monday, April 23. At the same time, a headline on a recent Globe and Mail article by Elizabeth Renzetti pointed to a feeling I share : “Toronto may be strong, but so is the drive to ignore painful truths.”

I haven’t actually read this article. You have to pay for that. I put so much on the net for free myself (whether readers want it or not of course) that I find it impossible to pay for anything else.

Wayne Adam from faraway Danforth and Greenwood holds up a Canadian flag at vigil remembering the victims of deadly van attack, at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto on Sunday, April 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn.

But the day after we were back from California I went drinking (very moderately at my age) in the Toronto Annex with old friends. We talked about almost everything else in the news at length. But we said nothing about the tragic van killings on north Yonge Street. Ms Renzetti’s local “drive to ignore painful truths” was too strong …

Even several days later, early in May 2018, exactly what drove “accused killer Alek Minassian” to do what he did on north Yonge Street in Toronto (and then unsuccessfully ask Constable Lam to shoot him) is a story with complex depths. It will take time (and a weakening drive to ignore painful truths) to discover and even longer to understand.

Already, however, it does seem that the event has been plausibly enough placed politically, as it were, in the larger universe of crazed mass murders of our time, in North America and beyond …

Another crazy attack in some crazy war on women or against feminism or whatever?

Ozra Kenari places flowers at a memorial for the victims of the tragic van killings on north Yonge Street in Toronto, the day after. Photo : Nathan Denette/Canadian Press.

As explained by CBC News, shortly before his devastating drive in a rented van Alek Minassian placed an apparently now authenticated (though also removed) post on his Facebook page. To quote the anonymous but polished CBC authors :

The post referred to the ‘Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger.’ Rodger was the 22-year-old California man responsible for a deadly rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., that left six people dead and a dozen people wounded … In a video posted ahead of that 2014 attack, Rodger raged about a number of women turning down his advances, rendering men like him ‘incels,’ a term used by some groups to mean ‘involuntarily celibate.’”

Back in the early spring of 2018, the CBC News authors went on : “Rodger referred to men who were successful with women as ‘Chads’ and women who turned men down as ‘Stacys.’ … The post that appeared on Minassian’s Facebook page included a line that said the ‘incel rebellion has already begun. We will overthrow all the Chads and the Stacys’.”

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at Toronto Strong vigil, April 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn.

From a strictly Canadian point of view, the closest analogue is no doubt the early December 1989 École Polytechnique massacre of 14 women in Montreal, by another tragically deranged 25-year-old male,  Marc Lépine.

(Again, eight of the 10 people killed on north Yonge Street in Toronto in 2018 were women.)

And a reassuring historic (if only accidentally related) touch at the April 29 “Toronto Strong” vigil was the presence of Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, alongside Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

“Things like this don’t happen in Toronto” … but of course they do …

I also saw parts of the Toronto Strong vigil on TV. One of the women interviewed actually did say “things like this don’t happen in Toronto.” But of course they do.

There are moments when some of us still imagine we are still part of some uniquely “Peaceable Kingdom” from the 1950s (or 1970 at least) – a place fortunately apart from the unruly modern-and-postmodern struggles of the United States, the United Kingdom, or France (and many other places from China to India to South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia, and on and on).

Canada : A guide to the peaceable kingdom was first published in 1970.

But in this early spring of 2018 we returned from California to a Toronto that had just confronted one painful truth it likes to ignore. It is part of the same global village as everywhere else, and it has the same problems.

It does have its unique attractions – and comparative safety and civility and much cultural diversity are among them. And it does have the deft use of minimum force by the fortunate likes of Constable Ken Lam – descended no doubt from what the New York literary critic Edmund Wilson long ago now called a “British tradition of good order and capable handling.”Â  (Still vaguely present as well perhaps in places like Hong Kong?)

But, like the larger Canada whose largest metropolis it is at the moment, Toronto has the same problems as other comparable places of the early 21st century elsewhere. People are in fact murdered in the naked city. And sometimes crazy mass murderers do crazy things, for political and other reasons that just don’t make sense.

As if to underline the point in what some are doing their very best to see in a not-crazy way, we also returned from California to an Ontario (Canada’s most populous province, of which Toronto is the capital city) that seems about to elect the Trump-Brexit acolyte Doug Ford (older brother of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford), as its premier or provincial prime minister. Some parts of both Toronto and the larger Ontario that stretches all the way to Hudson Bay are apparently enthusiastic about joining the wider international illusions of our time.

Maclean's – Canada's National Magazine, December 1, 1952.

(Though, having recently consulted with the people of Ontario, Mr. Ford now says he is not going to build more suburban tract housing on the Greenbelt after all, as earlier promised.)

And, to round everything off, on my way to  drinking (very moderately) in the Toronto Annex with old friends, just after we came back from California, I passed by the intersection of Bloor and Bathurst streets. And I saw that the building which once housed the locally celebrated Honest Ed’s bargain store – a leading edge of the rising new increasingly diverse Toronto “global city” that arose between 1948 and 2016 – has now been leveled to the ground. The site is ready for the next phase in the life of the naked city, which may someday a little sooner start understanding its painful truths almost as well as its still welcome enough old high ideals …

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