Last night, I introduced two of my Colombian colleagues to poutine. A new restaurant, the first of its kind in Colombia to offer deep fried potato and cheese goodness is open on Calle 13 with 5. The poutine was, including the bloated feeling afterwards, just like I remembered it. It is not often that I have the opportunity to show off something so directly related to my home and I was delighted share my carbs and grease with people in my other country.
This morning, I was on the radio talking about political participation in our weekly show. We discussed the new information released by the Colombian government about the peace talks, with a special focus on the mechanisms to be put in place to provide democratic alternatives to violence with the potential signing of a peace deal. This is not simply turning the Farc into a political party, but involves the creation of a new political culture that accepts dissent and discussion as part of it means to live in a democracy.
When I finally got back to the office, my social media had exploded with news of the shooting this morning in Ottawa. Shocked and sad, I remembered eating poutine with friends at the Elgin St. Dinner when I lived in the capital and walking near Parliament to get to work. Some of those same friends are on lockdown. Every picture flashing by on my news feed were of places that were once part of my neighbourhood.
I was caught off guard, however, when I realized how normal it appeared, at first glance, to see an heavily armed man standing in front of the Rideau Centre. During all my time in Ottawa, however, this was never normal.
Yet, here in Bogota, I see heavily armed men all the time. Militarization has become a normal part of my life; men with giant guns are simply other members of the crowd. I no longer notice razor wire and security checkpoints are just an excuse to look at my phone as I open my bag for inspection. It was, therefore, my new norm to not give a second glance at militarized personal in Ottawa.
I live in a heavily militarized society where dissent invites death. September was considered a black month, as hundreds of human rights defenders received death threats for speaking out against violence and human rights violations. An entire political party was massacred in the late 1980s. If the roots of these problems are not addressed and spaces for participation, from grassroots mobilizations to seats in Congress, are not created, violence will continue and guns in the street will be business as usual.
They say it will take 50 years to rebuild Colombia, the same 50 years that the country has been engaged in conflict. Everyday I become more and more convinced of the futility of violence as a response to violence. Alternatives, however, must be put in place that provide spaces for open discussion and also to address structural roots of conflict.
The same is true in Canada, on this sad day and on all days. I don’t want armed forces and a plethora of weapons to become normal for anybody, least of all in my beloved Ottawa, no matter how courageously people behaved today. I want to be able to show off our poutine and not our military incursions.
Our response, as individuals and as a country, at this time is crucial: to not jump to conclusions, to act with courageous compassion and common sense, and above all, to not contribute to a cycle of violence and racism, no matter who is responsible.