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Prest: A powerful public response to an attack in a public place

A public library is a sacred place. We will not let this attack stop us from learning, gathering, welcoming.

A public library is one of the greatest achievements of human civilization.

Information is power, and in many societies throughout history it has not been shared freely. To control the flow of information to the masses is to control the very foundation upon which our beliefs and customs and culture are built.

That is what is so extraordinary about the concept of a public library. A library takes our gathered knowledge, our stories and collective histories, and shares it with everyone regardless of their social standing or ability to pay for that knowledge. It’s a place to learn, to explore, to create. For children in particular, a library can be an absolute marvel, a safe haven full of fascinating information and friendly helpers.

A library is the foundation of a democratic society.

On Saturday a man approached North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley library and plaza and, seemingly randomly, started stabbing people. One woman died, and six other victims were wounded. It’s a senseless, horrid, unthinkable tragedy that has shaken this community.

We grieve for the woman who died, and must come together to aid her loved ones in whatever ways we can. Nothing we can say can bring her back, but we will support her family with all of our strength.

We hope for healing for the other victims, who will deal with wounds both mental and physical for the rest of their lives. We take solace in the knowledge they are receiving world-class medical treatment here in North Vancouver. We will support them every step of the way.

We wish for peace for the bystanders and witnesses who saw this attack take place or happened upon the aftermath, many of whom raced into action to aid the injured. Reports from the scene describe staff members from a nearby restaurant – already putting themselves at risk by working front-line positions during a pandemic – pulling an injured mother and her child to safety and chasing off the attacker.

Two other bystanders reportedly put themselves in harm’s way, luring the attacker away from the crowded public space, while still more helpers raced ahead to warn unsuspecting people of the nearby danger. And the librarians themselves jumped into action, helping with triage and getting supplies for first responders. 

The trauma of this day won’t be limited to just those who were attacked. Even the attacker is in our thoughts, another life seemingly lost. What went wrong?

And we praise the first responders who raced into the unknown of an active crime scene to help the wounded and stop the attacker. It seems clear that this man was capable of doing more harm, and it was the quick action of our first responders that stopped him from hurting even more people.

This attack happened on the last weekend of spring break, in a busy public gathering space near restaurants, a shopping mall, businesses, a plaza and the library.

And that is one of the elements of Saturday’s attack that is so shaking, so disturbing for our North Shore community. This was a public space, a meeting ground.

How many of us can say that we were in this very space within the last month, the last week, even the last day?

I know I can. I was in that library one week ago with my two young children. As I type this I’m looking down at a bag of books that we borrowed from that library. A week from now, I’m supposed to take them back.

Librarians are some of the best people I’ve ever met – curious, creative and kind. This assault on their workplace isn’t fair. This assault on our public gathering space isn’t fair. But we’re not going to let that stop us from gathering, from sharing, from welcoming. That much was clear just a day after the attacks, when a massive makeshift memorial grew outside the library.

This will stay with us for a long time, but we can’t let it fester. Ask for help if you need it. Take care of each other. Hug your loved ones tight.

For a few moments Saturday, we saw humanity at its worst. But it was so quickly overwhelmed by humanity at its best.

I will take those library books back. My kids will come back, too, to explore those shelves. We will all come back to the library and plaza, to our free and open public spaces. This is where we meet. This is where we learn. This is where we share.

This is our community.

Andy Prest is the sports editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly. [email protected]