So how do governments, and we average Canadians, make those distinctions?
Reflecting on the news reports of the time, there is no question but that the citizenry of Moncton were held in thrall by terror as the RCMP tried to track down the killer, and clearly last week people working in the precinct around Parliament Hill felt the same way. If you make someone terrified, does that make you a terrorist or just very dangerous and unpredictable? In Quebec, you can probably argue that, for most witnesses, what they saw was a hit and run with a subsequent police chase. Arguably, none of them would have been terrorized by the event itself although they would later be deeply concerned about the ascribed motivation of the killer.
Is "terrorism" in the eye of the beholder? Does random violence against women (this week's big story) not merit the same kind of response as violence against other members of our society? If we looked at the targeted victimization surrounding murdered and missing aboriginal women as terrorism (as opposed to a "crime") would we have considered Robert Picton a terrorist rather than just a murderer?
This is where good governance comes in. Governments have a responsibility to provide clear and consistent leadership with respect to all manifestations of violence in society. Over-reaction and heightened rhetoric dilute the quality of political and social discourse. Those of us who lived, as adults, through the October Crisis and subsequent imposition of the War Measures Act understand how fine the line is between protecting citizens and violating their rights in the name of public safety.
Last week was a bad one. There will undoubtedly be more like it. Hopefully we will not suffer casualties as a result of the current mission in Iraq, but I think that, after Afghanistan, we are all expecting them. The next few months, and the tone which each political party takes in the lead up to the 2015 federal election will greatly determine the course that we take as a country over the next decade. Toned down rhetoric and thoughtful analysis may not score many political points, but they will demonstrate the kind of good governance and leadership that all Canadians need and deserve. Let's hope that that is what we get.