On being … unrushed

By Ingrid Sapona

One day last week, as I was driving home I had on an AM news station to get the traffic report. After hearing it, I continued listening, curious for an update about Kate Middleton’s delivery. Instead of hearing about the royals, the news was about a rental van that had jumped the curb and struck pedestrians in a neighborhood at the north end of Toronto.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was hearing some of the first news reports. The details were sketchy. For example, they didn’t mention any casualties. But, a few things made it clear that it wasn’t a normal accident. For starters, though they continued to provide frequent traffic and weather reports, they didn’t talk about other news at all. The fact that the subway up at that end of town was not running, nor were buses, also seemed odd to me.

Later, as I made dinner, I turned on an FM station. During their brief news update I heard there were 9 dead (at that time) and about 15 injured. I think they also mentioned the van driver was in custody, but they gave no details about him. They played a few interviews of witnesses and from those accounts, it was clear it wasn’t an accident.

That evening, a few friends and relatives from the States contacted me to see if I was ok. After I reassured them I was fine, they asked what the police were saying about who did it and why. I told them the details were still sketchy and that the police aren’t as quick to release details as they are in the US.

Indeed, I was surprised to see the story on the US network news that evening. The US news noted that the police hadn’t released the driver’s name, but they said the driver “was known to police”. None of the Canadian reports I heard mentioned that tidbit, and I wondered why not. Nor was there any speculation about terrorism or motive. Instead, the mainstream Canadian media simply reported the facts as they became known. As it turns out, the reason the “known to police” comment was never mentioned by the Canadian press is because it was simply not true.

By the next morning, some information about the driver (his name and age, for example) had been released by police. From that, reporters began uncovering additional details about him – where he went to school, where he had worked, and so on. Also by the next day, speculation about motive was emerging.

But, details about the non-violent arrest of the driver by Toronto police constable Ken Lam also got a lot of coverage. Const. Lam’s behaviour in the course of the arrest was remarkable. Apparently, Lam was on traffic duty when the call came in. He headed to the scene alone in an unmarked police car, siren whaling. He got out of the car and approached the driver, who was out of the van and who looked to be holding a gun.

Lam walked toward the driver, yelling at him to get down. When Lam realized the cruiser’s siren was still going, he went back to the car and turned it off. As soon as it was off, Lam headed back toward the driver, yelling for him to get down. The driver said he had a gun in his pocket, but Lam yelled back, “I don’t care!” Lam continued to yell for the driver to get down. As Lam got closer, the driver yelled “shoot me in the head”. Lam continued calmly toward him, ultimately wrestling him to the ground and handcuffing him.

Like all Torontonians, I was impressed by Const. Lam’s unparalleled bravery and skill. As one commentator noted, every action Lam took – from taking time to turn off the siren to engaging the driver in conversation – was deliberately intended to try to calm the situation. The whole confrontation between Lam and the driver took only about 37 seconds, which in the scheme of an hour, let alone a lifetime, seems like nothing at all. And yet, Lam’s 37 seconds of level-headedness meant he had time to implement the specific steps Toronto police are trained in to diffuse dangerous confrontations.

At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, I’m very proud of the Toronto police, media, and general citizenry’s reaction in the face of this unspeakable tragedy. As everyone was struggling to make sense of something so senseless, there was no fearmongering or rushing to conclusions. Instead, there’s been lots of talk about how the multicultural nature of our society has helps unite – rather than divide – us, especially at a time like this.

In the aftermath of such events, there’s always talk about lessons learned and consideration of how the impact of such acts might be physically prevented or reduced. (Things like erecting barriers along the sidewalk, or making rental car companies do background checks have been mentioned, for example.) At times like this, I think it’s also useful to focus on the benefits gained by the police, media, and citizens’ willingness to not rush to action or judgement.  

©2018 Ingrid Sapona


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