On the evening of June 6, 2021, a half-hour's bike ride from my house, a pickup truck wiped out four members of a family. A nine-year-old boy survived, injured and orphaned.
The twenty-year-old driver was charged with multiple counts of murder, several other offences and-- a week later-- terrorism. People have held memorials, just as the province lifts many of the COVID-related restrictions. The victims were all Muslims, Canadians of Pakistani descent. The local mosque became a centre for donations and demonstrations of grief and local solidarity.
Too cruel anywhere. Four innocents died. A child out for an evening stroll watched his family be torn away.
The horrific event happened on an unseasonably warm, summer-like evening. The sun had not yet set. People were about. What witnesses describe sounds disturbingly like someone deliberately driving a car at a high speed off the road and into a group of pedestrians. The driver then fled and pulled into a parking lot about ten minutes away. He told a cabbie to call the police, because he'd just killed someone.
According to two independent witnesses, he wore a bulletproof vest and some kind of military helmet. They report that he laughed inappropriately and may have been chanting something, though no one seems sure what.
The police arrested the driver without incident and made the surprising move of announcing, that same night, a motive. They say he targeted the family because they were visibly Muslim. They may well have good reasons for making this statement, but that evidence will not be heard until the trial. The alleged motive is horribly plausible. Is it correct? I have no idea. Investigations frequently get details wrong, at least initially. In the press and popular imagination, it has become the motive, and Muslims in Canada quite understandably have expressed alarm and concern over their own safety.
They have been joined by a chorus of voices. I attended the first public memorial, by bike (getting a car anywhere near the location would have proved impossible), later that week. I left when the crowd became too thick to maintain appropriate distance and still hear the speakers. My wife later left one of those memorial ribbons. It has become part of a sizable display of symbols conveying support and condolences. The occasion saw the city mayor, the provincial premiere, and the prime minister all in attendance. I laud their support of a community in mourning, people with minds reeling over so vile an event in a place we like to consider peaceable. I am less pleased with Justin Trudeau declaring the event an "act of terrorism." It may well be that, but the statement speaks to motive and, at present, we remain in the dark. The courts try the accused, not elected officials. That system exists for very good reasons.
We should of course support those in mourning. Considerable funds have been raised already for the surviving boy and for various charities, in the family's name. And we must confront hatred and bigotry, regardless of whether anyone has been murdered lately. But where we have a criminal act and charges before the court, we must assess the facts as we learn them.
It's not as though the accused is going anywhere right now.
He remains an enigma. Atypically for a millennial, he has left almost no digital trail, beyond the one recently created after the slaughter of a family. He had a now-deleted Facebook account with twelve friends. To date, no one has uncovered evidence that he visited the usual sites of which those who commit hate-crimes and mass killings seem so fond. He reportedly had violent outbursts as a teen, and a strained relationship with his family. He was not left alone with his siblings. However, no one yet has identified a past history of hatred towards any specific group. Colleagues at the egg-packing plant in nearby Strathroy, Ontario where he worked express shock, almost parodically evoking the stereotype, that he was such a quiet boy. A Muslim coworker specifically said that he experienced no past conflicts with the accused. His neighbours in the apartment complex have a different perception. They found him disruptively noisy, and say he played videogames loudly, late into the night.
A family has been slaughtered, a child recovers from his physical injuries, and a perhaps unknowable young man awaits trial.
Anything else we wait impatiently to uncover.
Requiescat in pace.