The tough business of keeping calm and carrying on

His final words for the media he so desperately wanted to reach in the waning minutes of his one-man siege against a city of 135,000 souls sent chills up the collective spine of a province, a nation, the world.

Justin Bourque, a 24-year-old loner, long enamoured of the long gun, the cross bow and the long knife – having allegedly murdered three Codiac detachment RCMP officers in northwestern Moncton with a semiautomatic rifle – emerged from the woods around his makeshift bivouac to declare with psychopathic aplomb: “I’m done.”

With that, Moncton’s 30-hour lockdown – a form of voluntary house arrest of citizens whose only crime was living in a crime scene – ended in the early morning hours of June 6, 2014, a date that will live, if not in infamy, then certainly in the abiding sorrow of all those who imagined that nothing like this could ever happen to a town like this.

Of course, it does, and in the best of places. And this is the best of places.

All along the boulevard that connects the downtown core to the RCMP’s local headquarters, the cut flowers and cards and teddy bears and testimonials bloomed like an asphalt and concrete memorial garden. Media from around the world lingered long after the news value of the story abated, leaving only their bewildered solitude, the fundamental humanity of others to comfort them. You could see it their sad eyes on the nightly newscasts: “Too much, too much.”

Some of us here are red-faced and full of fury. We want retribution for the three young men – sworn to protect us, cut down for no apparent reason, other than inchoate rage against authority – who lost their lives next to their bullet-riddled cruisers. Some of us here are red-faced and full of humiliation. We want the world to understand that events like these are exceedingly rare in this part of Canada; that, on any given day, we do not produce gun-toting lunatics to take out our police officers.

But most of us cleave to our city’s motto, resurgo, a latin phrase that loosely translates into English as “rise again”. That’s something we do exceedingly well here.

Forty years ago, we arose from the awful specter of two kidnapped cops being forced to dig their own graves before being murdered and buried.

Thirty years ago, we arose from a sense of imminent economic damnation. Industries abandoned us. Businesses shuttered. Main Street was the shoot-out at the OK Corral.

Now, according to Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc’s city website, we are this: “Moncton is located at the hub of the Maritime provinces in Canada. This strategic geographic position in the centre of the Atlantic Trade Gateway has helped the region become a transportation and distribution hub for road, rail and air cargo. Advanced transportation infrastructure combined with a competitive cost environment has supported the growth of the region’s manufacturing, retail, tourism and service sectors.”

And we are more than this.

We are doctors and lawyers and teachers and clergy. We are actors and musicians and artists and architects. We are husbands and wives and grandmothers and grandfathers. We are firefighters and, course, police officers. This is where we make our daily stand against the perfidies of life. And this is where we find our grace to carry on.

We don’t imagine ourselves as trapped and vanquished creatures of either blind chance or malevolent design. We choose to be here. We will always choose to be here, even when economic necessity takes some of us away for a time; for centuries, the migration pattern of the typical Maritimer.

I know about these things, having been born in Toronto and largely raised in Halifax. I’ve lived and worked in cities across this country. I’ve lived and worked in Moncton since 1995. This is where I intend to stay until my time is up. None, but this muddy marvel of a town has provided me with such communitarian contentment.

Justin Bourque may be “done”. Let the courts decide. But the city he allegedly, savagely ravaged is far from it. Small we are, but mighty and resilient we remain. We have vistas and hope, still, to explore.

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