The thoughtless and evil actions of a mass shooter will not “build a wall between us and a better day,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged Monday.
Trudeau spoke to reporters outside of his Ottawa residence after a weekend shooting rampage that began in the small town of Portapique, Nova Scotia and claimed at least 19 lives, including veteran RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson.
The male shooter, who reportedly donned a police uniform at one point and drove a vehicle resembling a police cruiser, was also killed. An investigation into what has now become Canada’s deadliest mass killing continues.
Though Trudeau’s daily press briefings have for weeks focused the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prime minister’s prepared remarks Monday centred on the N.S. tragedy that “jolted” Canadians from the common cause of fighting the virus’ spread.
Stevenson died protecting others and “answering the call of duty,” as she did each day of her 23 years on the police service, Trudeau said. Mounties wearing the red serge across the country are mourning “one of their own and one of our best,” he said.
“Canada is a vast and sweeping country filled with long stretches of lonely roads. With unwavering courage and compassion, our Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol these roads to keep us safe, as they have for over 100 years,” he said.
The prime minister paid tribute to first responders who put themselves in danger “without pause, without hesitation,” including the front-line health-care workers putting themselves at risk while responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
Trudeau also requested the media not name or use the photo of the shooter so as not to give him the “gift of infamy,” and instead focus on victims and grieving communities.
He ended with remarks to children in Nova Scotia and around the country who are coming to grips with yet more heartbreak.
“I know the world can seem like a mean and ugly place right now but there’s a whole lot of good in the world, too. You’ll see it in your neighbours and in Canadians, in the days and weeks and months ahead,” he said.
“This is a difficult time. And it can be a scary time, too. But we’re here for you and we’re going to get through it together. I promise.”
Asked if the tragedy could spur stricter gun-control measures, Trudeau said that his government was already on “the verge” of introducing legislation before the pandemic caused Parliament to be suspended last month. A small group of members of Parliament gathered in the House of Commons Monday because parties were not able to reach an agreement on what sittings will look like in the weeks to come.
In the fall election campaign, Liberals pledged to ban “military-style assault weapons” and work with the provinces and territories to empower municipalities to ban or further restrict handguns.
The prime minister also addressed the “heartbreak on top of other heartbreaks” that will see the victims’ families unable to hold public gatherings to grieve together. Trudeau said that is also the case for thousands of families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or other causes over the past weeks, as governments put in place physical-distancing requirements.
Though “the pandemic will prevent us from mourning together in person,” he said, a vigil will be held Friday on the Facebook group Colchester - Supporting Our Community.
In a speech in the House Monday, Trudeau said it has been a “heartbreaking year for Canadians,” with steady news reports of violence and lives that could not be saved. In the wake of the shooting, many Canadians are probably asking how much much the country can take, he said.
Watch: ‘Our better tomorrow will come,’ PM tells House of Commons
Canadians should let “hope, love, and compassion” guide them through the difficult days, weeks, and months ahead, he added.
“Because our better tomorrow will come. It might not be this week or this even month, but it will come.”
Blair: Police officers are ‘heroes every day’
“A nurse, a teacher, correction officers, a serving police officer, parents, neighbours and friends. The full scope of this tragedy… will be remembered throughout Canada’s history,” he said.
Blair, who served as Toronto’s chief of police before entering politics in 2015, paid tribute to Stevenson and another male RCMP officer who was injured.
The men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line “are heroes every day, not just made heroes by this terrible tragedy,” Blair said.
With a file from The Canadian Press
CORRECTION: This article previously referred to the shootings as the “deadliest mass shooting” in Canadian history. Due to the nature of the victims’ deaths, this is not factual. The story has been updated.