To All Members of the UBC Community:
Once again, the world has been stunned by acts of brutal violence that have taken the lives of innocent men, women, and children going about their daily business. Once again we have seen images of broken bodies and broken buildings, shattered by the bombs of terrorists intent on disrupting the social and economic activities of a society they seek to destroy because its values are opposed to their own.
We were relieved to learn late last night that the four UBC students presently studying in Belgium were not affected by the bombings in Brussels. Our prayers and good wishes go out to the Belgian students presently at UBC, and we fervently hope that none of their loved ones have been touched by the violence.
Distant though Brussels may be from British Columbia and the calm beauty of our campuses, we cannot help but feel shaken by the thought that such terrible acts might very well happen here: that desperate people might carry out desperate acts in the name of an ideology we neither share nor understand. Even as our thoughts and prayers go out to the dead and wounded and their families in Belgium, in Turkey, in Egypt—in all the countries where terrorists have slain innocent people in recent weeks—we cannot stop ourselves from wondering about our own security. Should we increase the cameras at airports and train stations? Should police be given greater powers of search and arrest? Should we clamp down on what we think of as extremist rhetoric in an effort to limit the radicalization of our young people?
These are all natural reactions to terrorist violence, but we should have learned by now that such defensive responses have a limited effect; there is not much one can do to protect oneself against someone willing to die in a suicide attack. Rather, we should turn to the values that we believe Canada stands for, and that are enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms: freedom of religion, of thought, of expression, of the press and of peaceful assembly. We should recognize that those rights belong to all Canadians, regardless of their countries of origin, their creed, their gender or colour; and we should remind ourselves that the best road to peace is to bring people together, not divide them.
Canada is a nation of immigrants. Our best protection is to make everyone who comes here feel welcome by creating an inclusive society, rather than by focusing on differences. Our university can play an essential role here by discussion and debate, by helping us understand one another, and by showing the world that education is the best response to the fear bred by ignorance.
Martha C. Piper
Interim President and Vice-Chancellor