Carnage -- in our Montreal neighbourhood

Posted 09.26.06

[Editor's Note: Wayne Larsen edits the weekly Westmount Examiner on the Island of Montreal. He had family at the scene on September 13, 2006, when a 25-year-old non-student Kimveer Gill went on a shooting rampage at Montreal's Dawson College. This is Larsen's editorial on the tragedy.]

MONTREAL, QC | It is difficult to bring anything new to a subject that hundreds of writers around the world have covered extensively over the past week. But this time the big news story took place right here in our community, and nearly everyone knows at least one person who was somehow involved.

I was one of the luckier Dawson parents. My son was in the cafeteria when the shooting began and he managed to get out right away. He called me with the news as he hurried over to the Examiner office, where he spent much of the afternoon helping with the coverage-monitoring Internet and radio reports while trying to track down friends who had also been there.

My sister-in-law was not so lucky. As the bullets were flying, she had to crawl along the floor of her office to join several co-workers hiding in a back room. They were so close that they could clearly hear the exchange between the gunman and police just before the final gunshots.

And then there is my daughter, who goes to the high school once attended by Anastasia De Sousa. She remembers her well, and her network of friends and acquaintances also includes a sibling of one of the other shooting victims. In a touching show of solidarity and grief, the students have incorporated a heart symbol into their online name when they chat on the Internet-a sign that they have all been affected by this nightmare.

As a shocked community attempts to resume its daily activities and everyone at Dawson College begins what is certain to be a long healing process, so many questions remain unanswered. But one thing is very clear-everyone seems to have acted in an exemplary manner in the face of crisis.

Dawson College has always provided as safe and secure an environment as reasonably possible, and could not have done anything further to prevent the horrible events of last Wednesday. Its staff and administration have handled everything most admirably, especially under such gut-wrenching circumstances.

The City of Westmount, which suddenly had to deal with a large-scale emergency situation, was fully prepared thanks to the extensive pre-planning of its Emergency Measures procedures.

And of course there was the Montreal police force-especially the officers of Westmount's Station 12, on whose turf everything took place.

Their quick response and efficient handling of a wildly unstable situation was nothing short of inspiring. People often malign our police officers, but unfortunately it takes incidents like this for us to realize what a valuable service they provide.

Though much more controversial, the news media also came through admirably, conveying the latest developments to an anxious audience as soon as they were available. Of course many pieces of erroneous information leaked out-among the first reports was a confirmation that four people had died-but they were corrected quickly and efficiently. This is inevitable when so many things are being spread by crowds of frightened, confused people, and local journalists managed quite well under almost impossible conditions.

During a candid discussion in one of my journalism classes at Concordia, where media coverage of the event was a hot topic, one of my students made an interesting observation. Why was the word 'tragedy' used so often to describe the Dawson shootings, she asked, when carnage on a much larger scale routinely occurs in the Middle East and 'tragedy' is rarely, if ever, used? Just because we may have become desensitized by so many TV images of death and destruction left by suicide bombers and missile attacks, are they not just as tragic?

Part of the answer seems to be buried somewhere in the fact that Westmount is known as a safe environment, where no one expects to see a crazed Goth pull up on de Maisonneuve Boulevard and begin loading a semi-automatic weapon.

This would be unsettling enough in a war zone, but when it happens on that familiar stretch between Wood and Atwater, it takes on a chilling, way-too-close-to-home quality where even words like 'tragedy' can't describe the extent of that combination of shock and despair experienced by so many of our young people last Wednesday-right here in our neighbourhood.

Copyright © 2006 Wayne/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.06