Avoid letting tragedies become power grabs

The reaction to this week’s horrific scene in Toronto was immediate and visceral, as our humanity should have it. The security measures, understandable in the moment, need to be a little less kneejerk. Much less, even.

Although bearing the hallmarks of terrorism, the details known thus far have precluded that label. The motive for the attack does not appear to be political or cultural, rather to be associated with the perpetrator’s personal issues.

That does not, of course, change in any way the murders of 10 people and injuries of 14 others. Families are grieving, bystanders traumatized and public safety in question, just as would be the case with a clear act of terrorism.

At first blush, the crimes for which 25-year-old Alek Minnassian has been charged have more in common with what happened at l’École Polytechnique in Montreal and Isla Vista, California.

While grappling with how someone could be driven to carry out such atrocities, we do have to be vigilant to resist any calls to strip away our rights and protections in the name of public fear and uncertainty. Just as we’ve seen with incidents linked to terrorism, there are those who will try to use the opportunity to push us farther along the road to a police state.

As with every other instance, some of the hysteria will pass, of course,

In time, we can come to understand this act, as with others. That’s a necessary step. Significant surveillance-state overreach would be completely wrong, however. As with terrorist acts, we have to be mindful of the fear the scene on Yonge Street breeds. There are many vested interests with financial and other incentives to call for beefed up security, military spending and even more restrictions to our civil rights and liberties.

You can bet this tragedy will be used to justify more intrusions into our collective privacy.

Certain types have always had the urge to spy on people; in the post-9/11 world, the paranoid and dictatorial have found new ways to curtail public freedoms. Their attempts to play on current fears have many precedents – think of McCarthyism and the state police of hundreds of oppressive regimes.

Those who would take your freedoms argue such measures are little grief if only one terrorist is thwarted or one criminal swept up. The argument holds no merit, as taking away the rights of everyone to round up a few smacks of a bad deal – as Benjamin Franklin noted, “Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.”

Information gathered will do nothing to deter real crime, but would serve as an excellent vehicle for public control. Misuse would be rampant. Throw in a lack of data security and the perils become even greater.

With computers able to crunch vast amounts of disparate data, we would be wise to provide government, agencies and businesses with increasingly less information about ourselves. Preventing more intrusion on our lives is where the real battle lies.

For now, we exercise our humanity in coming to grips with what happened in Toronto. But let’s not get lose sight of the bigger picture and what’s at stake.

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