Ottawa Shooting Raises Concerns About Gun Laws, Mental Illness

Parliament Hill Ottawa Canada

Parliament Hill, Ottawa. / Image: Kumar Appaiah via Flickr CC.

Ottawa, Canada was shaken last month after a gunman opened fire at Parliament Hill, fatally shooting Corporal Nathan Cirillo, and wounding others. The perpetrator, who was killed at the scene, was Canada native Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a reported drug addict and habitual offender. In the aftermath of this horrific incident, many questions about gun control and mental illness have arisen, as Ottawa struggles to make sense of this tragedy.

Reportedly, Zehaf-Bibeau converted to Islam in 2004, and has since been described as “erratic” by acquaintances and family members. Many have questioned whether his motives and the harm he caused were charged by his religion and beliefs. Some, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have gone as far as to call the shooting a terrorist attack.

“I don’t think we have enough evidence to use that word,” said NDP leader Tom Mulcair after the shooting. Former U.S. military general David Petraeus, who now serves as chairman of the KKR Global Institute, agrees. “I tend to think that in many cases there are distinct individual motivations in situations like this,” Petraeus said in regards to the lack of a greater terrorist threat. “So, I think until we actually understand better what was going through the mind of these individuals when they carried out these terrorist acts, it would probably be unwise to generalize about them.”

Regardless of what motivated Zehaf-Bibeau to go on the shooting spree, the incident speaks to the discourse surrounding mental illness that is always amplified after tragedies like this. Corporal Cirillo’s girlfriend, Andrea Polko, has come out to challenge Canada to consider how mental health is dealt with in a greater context. “What we SHOULD be talking about is the dismal state of mental healthcare in our country,” wrote Polko in a November 4 Facebook message that was later deleted.

Currently, reports are circulating that legislature security in British Columbia will be receiving a major security overhaul in response to the shooting. Time will tell how Canada’s policymakers work to reevaluate gun control measures and addresses mental illness.

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