One year ago, Canada was rocked by two brutal and ferocious attacks against two soldiers in uniform. The first took place on October 20 in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the second on October 22 in Ottawa. In the first, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent lost his life; in the second Corporal Nathan Cirillo, an Italian-Canadian whose family comes from Fabrizia, a small town in the province of Vibo Valentia, in Calabria.
I still remember the shock of those days, the anguish, the fear; the sadness of seeing one of the greatest and most beautiful countries in the world struck and wounded by two vile acts of barbarism.
The Cenotaph and the Parliament Buildings, sacred symbols of peace and democracy, were violated by two criminal extremists, blinded by hatred and fundamentalist ideology.
And all this happened in Canada of all places – a country that has welcomed millions of people from around the world, people of all languages, cultures, and creeds, who here found a new home, a new country, and a new family and who were able to build a better future for themselves and their children.
My thoughts turn at this time to Canada, to Canadians, to Italian-Canadians, to the families of the soldiers who were killed. They turn to little Marcus Daniel Cirillo, who touched us and whom we admired, on the day of his father’s funeral in Hamilton and again this week at the commemoration ceremony in Ottawa last Thursday. I hope that Marcus will find comfort in the fact that all of Canada looks to his father with pride, with gratitude, and with profound respect.
I was struck by something else on that terrible day: the way Canadians reacted, as a generous and loyal people, ready to act selflessly, heroically.
Just seconds after the cowardly attack, cowardly because Nathan Cirillo was shot from behind, several people, instead of giving in to fear and running away, instead ran toward the wounded soldier. They helped him and comforted him until paramedics arrived, and among them was lawyer Barbara Winters. Throughout the rescue efforts she spoke to Cirillo, telling him that he “was a good man,” “a brave man,” reassuring him that “your military family loves you. Look at these people, we’re all here helping you. We’re all trying to do what we can for you. We all love you.”
This is Canada, and this is who Canadians are: a great country and a great people. I have tremendous admiration for the Armed Forces, for the authorities and the civilians who one year ago showed extraordinary calm and composure in one of the most dramatic moments in Canada’s history. I will never forget the solemnity in the House of Commons the following day, when all the Members of Parliament stood together to sing, with great pride, the national anthem in a show of extraordinary unity, to the country and to the world. I will never forget the crowds that lined the highway as the funeral cortège travelled the 500 kilometers from Ottawa to Hamilton, unfurling large Canadian flags at every overpass.
Fortunately, as Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau said last week, the terrorist threat did not change Canada, because “Canadians are kind and generous, open-minded, and optimistic. We know that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world, who worship in every faith, who belong to every culture, and who speak every language.”
And, as the President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Matteo Renzi reiterated in those tragic days, Italy stands beside Canada, to which it is bound by deep ties of friendship and shared values, and together with Canada it will not bow to threats and intimidation in the face of these cowardly attacks.
Last Thursday, during a moving ceremony in front of the War Memorial, Prime Minister Harper and Prime Minister-designate Trudeau unveiled a plaque bearing the following inscription that will remain forever, for future generations:
In honour of Corporal Nathan Cirillo
Killed on October 22, 2014
As he stood sentry
At the sacred tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Corporal Cirillo never left his post.
Forevermore shall he stand sentry
On guard for Canada.
Lest we forget.
We will never forget him.