As the dust settles after last week’s shooting on Parliament Hill, it’s time for Canadians to reflect on what has happened in our land of Peace, Order and Good Government. Many people are asking how a gunman could get into the halls of the Parliament Buildings without being stopped. I’m not sure that is the right question to ask.
What happened? A lone wolf gunman, was a very troubled man, struggling with substance addictions and struggling with life. In many ways he is not different from Marc Lepine, who murdered 14 women in the Montreal Massacre in 1989. He was no different from Justin Bourque who shot 5 RCMP officers, killing three of them, for no apparent reason in 2014. He is no different from 14-year-old Todd Cameron Smith, who went on a shooting spree killing one and injuring another person at a high school in Taber, Alberta in 1999. Not to mention Sandy Hook, Columbine or Virgina Tech. No matter who was the intended victim, women, Christians or just mean kids, the intent seems clear, to get back at those who are perceived to wrong the shooter. As I write this, two days after the shooting in Ottawa, a mass shooting at a high school in Seattle has just happened.
What is concerning is that these incidents are happening more frequently. An FBI study shows that from 2000-2013, 160 incidents of mass shootings occurred in the U.S.. Only 6 of the shooters were women. From 2000-2006, there were an average of 6.4 incidents annually in the U.S, but from 2007 – 2013, the average rose to 16.4 incidents annually. The study suggests that many of the shooters are nursing a grievance that they believe can only be solved by killing a symbol of their anger.
So the question remains, is this mass shooting phenomenon really about terrorism? I don’t think so. For some young men, their anger finds a home in extremist views of all types, faiths or beliefs, from religious fundamentalism, militias, white supremacists, or misogynists. Often their anger is complicated by mental illness, sub-clinical depression, or substance abuse. It isn’t just Muslim men who are vulnerable to extremism.
The problem isn’t fundamentalism, the problem is an increasing number of young men are not engaged in our society. Only 57% of young adults feel connected to their community, the lowest of all age groups. Young men account for 77% of young adult suicides. Young men are more likely to use substances and use them heavily. Men are almost twice as likely to drop out of high school than women. The most recent economic downturn has lasted 6 years, and has disproportionately affected men and youth. The Conference Board of Canada has found that the wage gap between younger and older workers has increased from 47% in the mid-eighties, to 64% today. More women receive undergraduate degrees than men in Canada. At the same time, mental health issues are exploding among youth 18 – 28.
Domestic terrorism and mass shootings are a symptom of a bigger problem. The question we should be asking is why are we failing our young men?