The Current

'This is not our identity': Nova Scotians won't let violence of shooting rampage define them, researcher says 

In the wake of last weekend’s shootings, Nova Scotians are overcoming physical distancing measures and finding new ways to mourn. Michael Ungar, an expert in community resilience, says communities are reclaiming their public space.

Community finds 'innovative' ways to reclaim safety and public space: Michael Ungar

After last weekend's mass shooting, workers at an extended care facility show their community support in Debert, N.S., on Tuesday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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The outpouring of solidarity for the victims of last weekend's shooting rampage is a way for Nova Scotians to reject violence and reclaim their own safety, according to an expert on community resilience.

Michael Ungar has studied communities affected by trauma, such as gun violence or loss of industry, and how those communities start to heal.

"What you'll see over and over is these patterns of people signalling to each other that we are connected, and in a sense rejecting that identity being thrust on us by the violence," said Ungar, the Canada Research Chair in Child, Family, and Community Resilience at Dalhousie University.

Twenty-two people were killed in the shootings last weekend, as a gunman moved through the province for over 12 hours, disguised as an RCMP officer.

In the past few days, Ungar says he's seen tartans and messages of support hanging in homes he passes while walking.

'Nova Scotia Strong' becomes rally cry after shooting

2 years ago
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People from around the world are sharing condolences and tributes using the phrase Nova Scotia Strong to bring them together. 2:07

"What it's signalling to me is this kind of assertion that ... we are better than this, and we are not going to let this define us as a province or as a community," Ungar told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"This is not our identity and this is not the way the world perceives Nova Scotia."

Virtual vigil

On Friday, a virtual vigil will be held to commemorate the victims and offer support to their loved ones. Physical distancing measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic mean large gatherings are out of the question. The service will be broadcast on CBC Radio, CBC-TV and CBCNews.ca.

"The idea was just to demonstrate that we can be together — even in these unprecedented times, in the face of this horrible tragedy — that we can come together as a community," said Tiffany Ward, co-organizer of the vigil.

"We can wrap our arms around those who are hurting the most and begin to share and to commence the grieving, and then subsequently, the healing process," she told Galloway.

It's important to share bad news with your children, but then show them the world is still safe, researcher Michael Ungar tells Matt Galloway. 2:12

Ungar says the vigil showed the "remarkable way we're adapting" to meet and yet overcome physical distancing requirements in a time of mourning.

"We do these things to assert ourselves back into those public spaces, as a way of reclaiming our sense of safety," he told Galloway.

Ungar never thought he'd have to bring his research "into his backyard," but says the foundation for resilience was laid years ago, as the community "swapped casseroles down the street, as people needed help, as they got to know each other."

He believes Nova Scotians will overcome this tragedy and "come back much stronger."

"What's going to happen is people are going to revisit the very values that have always been strong there," he said. 

That might not happen in the initial days and weeks of grieving, he said.

"But over time, very shortly, those values will reawaken and hopefully, people will anchor back to those, and those will be what is being celebrated."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby and Richard Raycraft.

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