Moncton is no stranger to the shock and terror felt this week in Toronto. We understand how quickly our sense of security can be shattered. We know what it’s like to ask ‘why’ over and over without a clear answer. We recognize the fear, the worry, the anger, and the sadness that is gripping the city. But what can we offer Torontonians that we’ve learned from our experience?
It’s been almost four years since our city was the one capturing international headlines for a senseless attack. Just as our neighbours in Bathurst were able to offer perspective to the Humboldt community, so too should we be able offer our empathy and understanding to the people of Toronto. I wonder, though, can we offer them more than that? What have we done as a community to confront the core of the problem?
Both incidents, the shooting in Moncton and the van attack in Toronto, were violent, public assaults carried out by a single young man whose thoughts fuelled an anger that killed innocent people. We can never fully anticipate the timing or details of such an attack, but we can be prepared to respond – like the staff at Sunnybrook hospital were prepared, like the officer who didn’t shoot the suspect was prepared – and we can take steps to be proactive, working to address those root issues of isolation and immature emotional intelligence.
Four years after the shootings in our city, the Anglophone East School District has reported 58 violent threats made against staff and students. In 2015/2016, that number was only 10. The significance of these numbers coming to light shortly after intense scrutiny of the lack of psychologists in our schools is obvious. Anglophone East has eight psychologist positions, but only two are filled. Based on recommendations from national organizations, our student population should require 22 positions. In a city that knows all too well the impact of these types of threats, why are we not making this a priority?
We will never be able to reach every person who feels isolated and angry. But are we doing all we can to teach our children how to deal with those feelings? Preparing for an attack isn’t just about security protocols and public safety measures. It’s a full spectrum that includes how we are teaching our children and ourselves to understand and appropriately deal with our emotions. I’m not sure we’ve improved on this since 2014.
I think we can, though. My husband and I had a discussion about emotional intelligence with a paediatrician sitting next to our sons’ isolettes. Our daughter is routinely asked to take part in small play-based groups at school, aimed at helping classmates improve their social interactions. We now have walk-in mental health clinics in our city, including one specifically for youth. Another local company is offering video counselling to try to remove barriers to access. People are ready to support a change in how we prioritize mental health. But we need more. We need resources and we need leadership.
Let’s start by looking at how we as a province approach the role of psychologists in our school system. As with any issue, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Investing the money to create the needed positions and to properly compensate psychologists is worth the long-term gains in a healthier population who understands how address the dark thoughts that lead to heartbreaking headlines. That can be the wisdom we have to share with another city when tragedy strikes and the legacy we can leave for future generations of New Brunswickers, so that we might never again see our city’s name in the headlines.