What makes Canada (and Ottawa) great is its open society

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A policeman flagged me down when I was poking around Canada’s parliament earlier this year in Ottawa. I’m sure that I looked somewhat suspicious peering into old windows, after a tour spent nosing into closed-off corridors, trying to catch just the right angle to snap a photo of the official portraits of Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and other prime ministers. Canada Flag Icon

The officer, however, didn’t yell at me or scold me. He didn’t say that the parliament was off limits. Instead, he gave me a Canada flag pin and welcomed me to his country, and said he was glad that I was visiting Ottawa.

It’s a moment that captured perfectly one of the real differences between American and Canadian culture — and not just politically. It also made me realize how instinctively I wince when I see any security officer of any kind, living for more than a decade in post-2001 New York and Washington.

That difference in tone is one of the many, real differences between American and Canadian culture.

What’s most tragic, from a long-term policy perspective, about today’s horrible shooting on Parliament Hill is that Canada might one day feel the kind of anti-terror paranoia that has led so many US politicians of both major parties to leap overboard when it comes to security theater and willingly shred and abuse civil and political rights (including the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizure) all in the name of ‘protecting the homeland.’ Canada’s immigration policies and its open society have made it, in many ways, a more welcoming destination for the rest of the world outside North America. Half of Toronto’s residents, for example, are foreign-born.

No one knows the reasons for today’s awful attack, and US-based pundits will find a way to turn it into another exhibit for their pet causes.

Today’s attack already ended the life of a Canadian soldier, Nathan Frank Cirillo. It would be even sadder if it reduced the open, decent and welcoming culture with which Canada has become synonymous.

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