Les lendemains du massacre

I spent the morning with a rising lump in my throat, gaping over pictures of students running panic-stricken past the IGA where I used to buy my groceries; a cop drawing his gun across from the restaurant where my brother worked for half a week; shoppers fleeing past the kiosk where I used to browse discount books.

The next few days’ headlines speculate about Kimveer Gill, the killer’s, influences: his Ozzy t-shirt, black trench-coat, anti-social haircut. Jan Wong goes as far as making the fantastical claim that Bill 101 and Québec society are ultimately to blame (incidentally, Gill’s infamous blog featured an extensive list of things he hated, none of them related in anyway to English or French culture or Québec. While he said he hated the American government, all he said about Québec was that it is, “Ok I guess”.).

But most authors are wary of jumping to quick conclusions. A study quoted by one article states, “There is really no profile of a school shooter.” So the columnists are left to pontificate about the randomness of these things. Teenagers are “as strong as horses” offers The Globe’s resident sage Christie Blatchford. With a little luck they’ll “get through it.” But these kinds of platitudes not only underestimate the serious post-traumatic stress students will inevitably suffer; they are also a way of closing debate about why such an event could happen. A letter from one of Gill’s former teachers cautions us not to conclude that he was “society’s victim,” saying only Gill himself “should be blamed for [the rampage].” There can be no doubt that on the morning of September 13th Gill made a decision for which only he can be held responsible. But this shouldn’t be used to prevent us from looking at the conditions that formed the backdrop to that decision.

“The world feels a more dangerous and violent place now than it did,” continues Christie Blatchford. Here, it seems to me, Blatchford may (for once) have stumbled across a good point. Not so much that the world on September 14th seems more dangerous, but that in 2006 we can no longer pretend that we live in an era of peace.

The shooters at Colombine, Dublaine, the Ecole Polytechnique and Dawson had more in common than long raincoats. They adored guns, they loved pseudo-military vogue and they breathed military values. Gill even had a brief, if abortive, stint at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School. If we cringe (and cringe we may) at the lyrics to the black metal they listened to or the plotlines of the sadistic video games they played, it’s worth remembering that these are only small reflections of a much deeper process that has been going on for some time in our society, and that is the creeping militarization of daily life, something that has increased dramatically over the past five years since the beginning of the War on Terror.

A look at the diction used in the news over the past few years reveals a normalization of language rejoicing in the deaths of our enemies, an extolling of the glory of war and the cult of the noble warrior, and a legitimization of the idea of just vengeance. Our enemies have been painted as being so savage, depraved and primitive that anything we do to them is justifiable: from invasion to torture to collective punishment. These are ultimately the same values, obediently ingested and pervertedly spat out, with which the killers regarded themselves.

Outside the media, we have seen in the last decade the proliferation of armed security personnel, who used to wear suits I thought, but now look more and more like SWAT teams. I remember when they used to be seen only in department stores, now it seems every drug store and book store worth its stock value feels the need to have a pack of them. These unaccountable private police forces have been increasingly militarized over the years: once carrying revolvers they can now regularly be seen brandishing rifles as they stand guard outside downtown cash machines. Our cities are becoming increasingly militarized; the uniforms of legitimized violence increasingly welcome addition to the city scenery.

The morning after the shootings, security was high in the business district of the city, more to reassure than to protect, a kind of semiotic trick to reinforce the image of these armed robocops as our protectors. Looking at them running around, waving walkie-talkies and patting their gun-belts, it occurred to me that Gill’s outfit, the subject of so much speculation, had resembled as much their SWAT team cargo pants as anything out of the Matrix or a Marilyn Manson video.

If we want to discover where these freaks get their love for guns and violence, we should look at how guns, military fatigue and violence are viewed in legitimate society.

A look at the blog of last week’s killer bears this out. On the one hand we see the obvious pop culture references: ultra-violent video games, horror films, Norwegian black metal. But what struck me was the military derivation of the slogans posted across his board. Aside from the many exclamations of common enough teenage alienation, most of the slogans were the kind of self-aggrandizing warrior-speak that would not look out of place scrawled on the door of a barracks on the front line or, for that matter, written on the casing of a bomb. In the section, “Things I like” Gill writes, “Destroying My Enemies, Crushing My Enemies Skulls…B.D.U. Swat Cargo…” This kind of cold sense of humour may be prevalent in video games and Megadeth lyrics, but they are ultimately a substandard imitation of the real thing: the humour of a battalion on its way to war, in other words, people who actually have it within their power to deliver on the threats they make.

All these killers loved war, loved the power that is intrinsic in killing, and although they may have hated the society they lived in, their values were not inherently opposed to it. They expressed in an inverted fashion ideas that are originate with the military and are propagated and glorified by the most mainstream sections of our society.

If we are to learn anything from last Wednesday’s seemingly meaningless act, it is that militarism and a militarized culture can blowback in unexpected ways. Most immediately, attacking the roots of militarism means demanding that Canadian troops pull out of Afghanistan, but at a deeper level we need to rethink how our society is run, why organized violence is such a fundamental part of it and how we can move towards a world where peace is more than a slogan to justify perpetual war.


  1. Hmm where do I know that Blatchford from? Oh yeah, she's the Globe's pro-war columnist who just said in the Sept.19 Globe that Layton is "feast[ing] on the carcasses" of the dead Canadian soldiers.

    Hail victory!

  2. An excellent piece Matt, and especially welcome after digesting the mainstream media. I think your main point here is not dissimilar to that brought up by Michael Moore, and something that needs to be reinforced in Canada given the tendency to double standards in viewing Canada's military contributions to imperialism. The Globe and CBC, remarkably, ran a segment about the new Canadian Armed Forces recruitment videos, displaying slogans something like "sign up to kill the terrorists" and "fight terror." They then debated the tastefulness and implied shift to American style militarism, right after an update on the Dawson shootings.
    It's hard to believe that this has happened in Montreal again, and I seriously wonder if there is any reason, or if it's just coincidence. CBC offered the explanations of a psychologist regarding the "profile". Little was said except that they are frequently male, bright, and have experienced failure. I think this is interesting in one respect. The experience of failure, of seeing the world in the terms handed to you, where winning and success are paramount, and tied up with gender and power, played out with violent ends. Fighting enemies is one thing, but this is a "victim's" work of revenge. Narcissistic and even "honourable" in the most twisted sense - the same sense invoked by those who feel victimized by "terrorists". Gill wished to turn the weapons on the jocks, the very ones who embodied the crass system of values, played the same video games, watched the same movies - and held the same code of honour.

    Of course I agree that nobody beside Kimveer Gill is responsible here, it is simply a matter of re-evaluating a held set of values that lead to similar destruciton of innocent lives, only much further away.

  3. Thanks Matt for the first piece on the subject that actually moves beyond the obvious. Keep infringing!

  4. Matt,
    A well written piece. I agree with everything you said about the problem with 'creeping militarization' except the conclusion :-) I think it is a stretch to try to link Gill's killing spree with this increasing militarization. Of course you can argue that his fascination with guns was influenced by this militarization, but that only explains the method and not the act. Even at that, there are thousands, if not millions of people, who are fascinated with guns and who play 'violent' computer games -- but only one Kimveer Gill. Columbine and the shooting in Alberta were perpetuated by high school students that were being bullied, also, Columbine happened before '9/11', so I don't think they can be lumped in with the shooting at Dawson.
    The fact of the matter is we don't know why Gill did what he did. We don't know what happened in the previous days, weeks, months and years to drive him into becoming a homicidal maniac.

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