In the wake of last week’s tragic events in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, André Picard in his article “We can’t legislate lost souls” (Globe and Mail, 28 October 2014) provides an insightful commentary on the need to develop responsive and compassionate healthcare, education, social welfare, and economic systems in order to help disenfranchised and troubled individuals who may turn to violence or acts of desperation:
Much of the public discourse has been about the need to tighten security, to crack down on radical elements in society. But violence is not strictly a public security issue. It’s also a serious and largely neglected public health issue.
Some of the information that’s emerged about Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau’s interactions with “the system” should give us particular pause. At best, he was a lost soul. At one point, he robbed a McDonald’s using a pointy stick with the aim of being arrested, hoping it would help him kick a drug habit.
There are many other troubled, disenfranchised young men like him. They populate our prisons, our schools and our urban streets, not to mention the basements of many suburban homes, festering away playing Mortal Kombat. Almost none of them will end up being murderers or terrorists, regardless of their mental health status. But it’s still a terrible waste. Our health, education, social welfare and economic systems are failing them.
In disturbing cases like last week, we want easily digestible explanations and quick, effective solutions. Sometimes, though, these don’t exist.
The malaise and desperation that results in young men killing themselves and others is not going to be legislated or policed away. We are going to need at least as much compassion as crackdown.
Photo credit: CC BY 2.0 image “Ottawa – HDR” courtesy of mtsrs on flickr.