Editorial: Define Nanaimo by caring people

Workplace shootings are supposed to happen in other, distant places, not on peaceful, laid-back Vancouver Island. Yet one happened here.

The shooting at Nanaimo’s Western Forest Products sawmill Wednesday left two people dead, two others injured and a man facing murder charges — and wounded us all. The healing will be a long time coming.

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Investigations, an inquiry and a trial will likely produce reams of facts, theories and information surrounding the incident, but few real answers. There is no answer yet to the biggest question: Why?

The suspect, who faces two charges of first-degree murder and two of attempted murder, is a former employee of the sawmill.

The Nanaimo mill has been involved in a protracted dispute with the union over severance pay since it shut down its sawmill and planing mill in 2008. The sawmill reopened in 2010 on a limited basis and with a fraction of its original workforce; the planer remained closed. That has caused anger and anxiety.

It’s easy to imagine a disgruntled former employee with a grudge, but it’s hard to imagine a grudge going that far. Thousands of workers in the lumber industry have been laid off without shooting anyone. No healthy, reasoning person, no matter how angry, would see killing and injuring people as a solution to his or her problems. Taking that path points more to a severe mental illness or a feeling of utter hopelessness, which in itself is an illness.

Many will ask: What could we have done? Probably not much.

These things don’t happen out of the blue. A University of British Columbia sociologist interviewed by the Vancouver Sun in connection with the Nanaimo shootings says it’s largely a myth that school and workplace shootings happen when someone suddenly snaps. Edward Taylor, director of the School of Social Work at UBC’s Okanagan campus, says it starts with a belief that there has been an injustice, and that belief turns into an obsession.

Even if there were clues leading to the violence at the sawmill, it’s likely that only qualified professionals would be able to recognize and interpret them.

But it’s all speculation at this point. Police and other officials will try to gather and analyze evidence in the coming weeks and months, and will no doubt arrive at conclusions that will offer insights, but little in the way of comfort.

The comfort that can be found is in the response and reactions to the tragedy. Within three minutes of receiving 911 calls, Nanaimo RCMP had personnel at the scene. Within 15 minutes, a suspect was in custody.

It’s a reminder that when the rest of us are running from danger, police and other emergency personnel are running toward that danger, a possibility they face every working day.

There is comfort in the way a community pulls together, and the way neighbours step forward to help each other through difficult times.

The suffering from the shooting goes beyond those who were killed and injured. It affects their families, their friends, their neighbours — the entire community and the entire Island.

We would like to think terrible things don’t happen here, but of course they do, things that we can’t predict or prevent. The question of what could have been done might be answered by professionals. For the rest of us, it’s more useful to ask what we can do.

When the worst happens, people have an opportunity to be at their best.

On Wednesday morning, when news of the shooting spread, the eyes of the country turned toward Nanaimo.

The community should not be defined by this act of violence. Rather, it should be defined by how it reacted to it, with concern and compassion.

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