What a week this has been. After the terrible ice storm and lingering winter, finally sunshine on Monday that brought people to the street, to walk, to dawdle, to stroll, to grab a coffee and feel themselves like buds begin to open and bloom again. And so between Sheppard and Finch those mothers, grandmothers, shopkeepers, dads, visitors to Toronto, those walkers found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time: cut down on that glorious day by a van whose driver could not be awakened by sun on his face. In deed he commandeered a van to efficiently murder innocent people who were out, minding their own business, just participating in the throbbing life of the city- on the first sunny day in quite some time.
Amidst gossip of who the driver might be, the back story hinted at a terrorist, but eventually revealed one motivated not by political ( as per the dictionary definition), but personal reasons, just as the ones who had ploughed through unsuspecting crowds in Cannes and Vienna, scattering and killing, using a van to maximize the death and to assuage his own misery.
The media described the van’s driver as continually employed in tech firms, living at home, but with a background of antisocial behaviour. One former classmate from high school relayed that ,Alek, the driver, used to meow like a cat and did not interact with his peers. Another article did not refer to him specifically as having Aspergers Syndrome, although his mother asserted it, but listed him within the autist spectrum disorder (ASD), underlining that people with autism are not dangerous.
This discussion reminded me of my early work at OCT, my first assignment to revive and rewrite the Special Education AQ, the AQ, being the additional qualification courses required for teachers to teach particular subjects, enhancing their pedagogy and acquiring new understanding and knowledge. For more than three years( while I was also involved in rewriting other AQs, and developing the College’s first set of ethics and standards with a team), I acquired more knowledge into what teachers needed to know about Special Education that ran the gamut from Giftedness to Autism. We interviewed specialists in the field, researched, looked at stats, did comparison studies, attended conferences, sat in on high school classes, dialogued with teachers, parents, and student teachers, visited special schools, private facilities, consulted students themselves, read Temple Grandin and poured over information from the Geneva Centre…: in an attempt to comprehend the topic from the inside-out, for every school offers or integrates special needs students in their classrooms.
I recall our wonder at learning that from 10 or so identified children with autism in our schools , the number appeared to suddenly catapult to thousands in Ontario and we ruminated on whether students had not been properly identified, ignored, or whether the sudden rise was due to environmental conditions such as “ something in the water”. What we knew was that teachers must prepare in a meaningful way. I recall our first drafts, eventually learning the lexicon so that the guideline would speak to and respect the intricacies of language that explained the autism spectrum disorder : as the variation among children with autism was wide and as in most cases, one hat does not fit all. Certainly we were aware that our guideline would be taught by experienced teachers who possessed both theory and practice in working with this speciality . Their expertise would make the guideline come alive with personal anecdotes regarding behaviours and assistance for their students. As well, the guideline- which originally comprised barely a few paragraphs on a single page- almost 20 years ago- would be reviewed and made current every three or so years.
So when reading about Alex Minassian, 25 in the newspaper, I noted his community help had ended. Perhaps that would not have made a difference as his deep issues of built up grievances caused him to be linked to the other misguided persons whose rage and anger and despair are so great so that they turn their belligerence outward, onto innocents who happen to be out strolling on a spring day: 10 dead, 13 more in hospital .In the split behaviour of one so overcome by emotions of hatred and intent to murder, he still was able to create a plan, rent a van, decide on a particular area in North York, both parts of his brain coalescing on Monday last. Ironically, as Sylvia Stead in today’s Globe points out,“… people living with mental illness or autism are more likely to be the victims of violence than perpetrators…” As he threatened the police office with a fake gun, taunting, he was likely calling for his own death. To the credit of the force, both training and procedures,Ken Lam, the police officer did not respond in a volley of fire, he took down the assailant without gunfire. Were Minassian’s actions copycats of earlier attacks fortified by the Incel chatter on Facebook? How long had he scanned the net, searching for means and ways, looking to perform his own personal attack? What goes on in any troubled mind and how much pain makes a person plot such a horrendous crime?
We, the others, after mourning and laying flowers at the makeshift memorial, will return to our lives, more cynical and jaundiced by the actions of this man and the sadness for the families of those cut down , no matter the age. A little boy has lost his single mother, Renuka Amararasingha from Sri Lanka, who newly hired as a cafeteria worker at Earl Haig Secondary School was hurrying off to Scarborough to pick up him up from school. And for one student at Earl Haig who writes he may have been the last to see Renuka at lunch: a chilling memory to keep him up at night. The Globe in publishing narratives describing the murdered has made them much more than ciphers, facts or statistics. They have rendered them as living humans with details: such as Geraldine Brady, a Cancer survivor with a reconstructed jaw; the image of Ms Forsyth’s abandoned walker, and recalled as being lucky on casino night; Anne Marie D’Amico who loved to travel and volunteer; grandfather Muniz Najjar, a Jordanian citizen, here to visit his children, but also depicted as one day savouring ice cream in Unionville and on another amazed at a. “blast of snow weeks later”…just a few stories to contemplate, along with the rest.
After a week or month, we may cease to notice a white van moving rather quickly on the streets, but we will reflect that no one is truly safe in society, but life will more or less return to normal- until another such incident somewhere else occurs. For those who no longer pass us on the street, nameless, and for their loved ones, lives have been forever altered. And the wonderful helpful bystanders who immediately responded by reaching for the hands of the dying, performing CPR , fixed in their seats at Starbucks, or miraculously just grazed by the speeding van, all traumatized and made immobile, new terrible realities have been instilled as well.
Yet, we must in this instance acknowledge reporting in our publications that is kind, accurate and fair. In a world of so- called fake news, we must continue to look at the rapidly declining newspapers and remember the significance of a free press. In the flow of everyday, we might try to focus on the positive life- enhancing behaviours that make life worthwhile and overcome the evil in our streets.