First of all, I’m late in acknowledging Greg Staples’ latest Bloggers Hotstove, and I’m sorry about that. Greg, Greg Bester, Jason Cherniak and I hashed things out for almost an hour. We gave our reaction to the latest terrorist scare in Toronto, and then started to talk about equalization. I think I stumbled a bit early on. I fear I have a tendency to ramble, especially about things I don’t have a clear opinion on, but things picked up with equalization. Though I still think some listeners listening to Greg Staples’ explanation of the equalization process may have had their heads explode, I was comfortable explaining the pressures urban infrastructure concerns are having on this nation, and the need for somebody — anybody — in the upper two levels of government to do something about it.
I’ve also got to extend a nod and a wave to Warren Kinsella for his spontaneous suggestion that we defy the aspirations of the terrorists by celebrating our freedom to act normally, heading down to one of the areas allegedly targetted by the plotters and taking in a Jays game, or having a beer.
As it happens, I will be heading down to the area this coming Monday, as I’m due to sign copies of The Unwritten Girl at the Dundurn booth at the BookExpo trade show (I sign at 3 p.m.). And I have decided to change my behaviour for this day. Usually, when I head into downtown Toronto, I drive along the 401 and the 427 and park at one of the western subway stations, taking the TTC the rest of the way. Instead, I think I’ll drive to Burlington GO station and buy a day pass to Union station. I don’t want to risk the 427 during the Monday morning rush hour. The traffic has me terrorized, not the terrorists. But I will be in the area, and I expect to be enjoying myself.
Seriously, though, it may interest readers to know that this is the third bomb scare Toronto has had since 1968. Soon after the attacks on the London Underground, I wrote an article summarizing two bomb threats against the TTC.
In 1985, an Armenian terrorist group threatened to blow up three bombs on the subway during the Monday morning rush hour unless Canada released three Armenians arrested in connection with an attack on the Turkish embassy in Ottawa earlier that year. Ridership on the TTC dropped by half that Monday and there were a number of false alarms, but no attacks occurred. The people behind the bomb threats were never caught, and the three Armenians the terrorists demanded the release of are still in prison.
In 1968, a “mad bomber” tried to extort $250,000 from the City of Toronto and used dynamite to blow up two washrooms on TTC property and a signal box on the subway tracks. A suspect was taken into custody and remanded for psychiatric assessment, but escaped and was never seen again.
Initially, the Globe and Mail showed an interest in the article, but eventually dropped the idea as the London Underground attacks faded from the news cycle. The piece eventually found a home in the latest issue of Spacing magazine, which I think you should all buy and read because it contains many interesting articles in addition to my own. The article’s appearance a couple of weeks before this incident now seems a little bit prophetic.
The article only provides a history of the two bomb scares. I had a commentary that I considered attaching to the end, but I never got the chance to include it. I include it here:
The world did not change on September 11, 2001. It was always possible for a small group of madmen to create havoc in the lives of innocent people. And like the United States and Britain, Canadians are very much a target of these terrorist groups. Our presence in Afghanistan makes us a target. Our open society makes us an easy target.
We should be prepared for the fact that Canada will be hit by a terrorist attack in our lifetime; maybe within the next five years — maybe even tomorrow. There is no shortage of places where they can hit, and only the most naive believe that our attitude protects us.
But at the same time, we should not let the fear of such an eventuality change who we are. In London and Madrid, the wider community continues to go about their daily lives, enjoying the freedoms their democracy has given them. We cannot protect our public spaces from every threat without rendering them something other than public spaces. We cannot fully protect our democracy without destroying it. And if we think we can protect ourselves by avoiding public spaces or public transit, think of how much damage an Oklahoma City-style bomb could do if placed beneath a span of the Gardiner Expressway, or one of the bridges of the 401.
The terrorists want us to react with fear. Their motives are implicit in the name we’ve given them. They want us to act irrationally. They want to divide our community and turn away from the diversity that is the hallmark of our society. They want us to shut down our public spaces and curtail our democracy. They want us to attack blindly at all those even marginally associated with the terrorists’ cause. If we respond in such a way, we have given the terrorists precisely what they want.
Be vigilant. Report packages that have been left unattended on the subway. Know where the emergency exits are. Learn first aid. But don’t change who you are. Continue to go to work. Continue to enjoy the freedom of living in a city as diverse as Toronto. Continue to think rationally. As long as we do this, the terrorists will never win.