Preventing the next tragedy similar to Monday’s van attack in Toronto

Following what appears to have been a deliberate act that ended 10 lives in Toronto, Monday, everyone seems to be searching for clues or warning signs about what made a man drive a rented van up onto a sidewalk. Police and the media will dig through Alek Minassian’s motivation, the ideologies he may subscribe to, and his mental health.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say if anything could have been done to protect the innocent people whose lives were lost alongside Yonge Street and the others who were injured, who had witnessed the carnage, or others impacted. It doesn’t appear the driver had an outward disposition to violence — save a few posts he allegedly recently made on social media — and he wasn’t known to police. Quite simply put, it would be hard to predict that he would take such a step. It would be absurd to think anyone would prohibit him from getting behind the wheel of a van to prevent such an incident.

Regardless of motive, a concern has been raised about the trend of attacks by vehicle across the globe, whether by known terrorist organizations or simply those who would copy their techniques after seeing them. One way to thwart that trend is to look for different ways to design streets and cityscapes where large crowds of people gather. With gardens, planters, and concrete barriers separating pedestrians from the street, an increased element of safety can be introduced not only from attacks, but also from incidents caused by legitimate health concerns or driver error. Perhaps, the advancement of artificial intelligence could serve to override vehicles being driven erratically with the potential to harm others.

Some have suggested mental health may have played a role in Monday’s events and that is also an area this province and country can make changes. It is well known that resources to treat mental ailments have lagged behind those committed to physical conditions — particularly in rural areas, such as this. There is also a very real stigma accompanying mental health diagnoses, which often causes those to suffer to do so alone, in fear, and without the backing of the community. A simple answer is directing more money toward mental health services. Moreover, however, a cultural change is required to end that stigma and encourage participation in inclusive communities. That change could help reduce the chance people will cause harm to themselves or others.

Finally, another suggestion in the aftermath of Toronto is that the public has to accept that sometimes terrible things will happen. We must be careful not to glorify them. Certainly the victims should be recognized and mourned. Their own accomplishments in life should be celebrated. Beyond that, though, there’s no sense fixating on why the driver would do such a thing. The more time that is spent on his motives, the more likely another deranged soul might feel the need to grasp attention and make a statement. Legal professionals will present the case against him, hurting families can look to the justice system for answers, and the rest of us can go on living our lives as we would day-to-day.

Inevitably, people will be unnerved and shaken and 10 people did die needlessly. The message of resilience, however, shows that acts of malice and fear cannot win.

-Adam Bramburger