More questions than answers on the Rideau Hall ‘incident’

When we have so little to go on, it is best to refrain from pronouncing judgment on a violent incident.

OTTAWA, CANADA — In the wake of an ‘off’ Canada Day 2020 – thanks COVID-19! – we did have some excitement this year, just not what we wanted or expected. On July 2 a man from western Manitoba drove a truck through the locked gates of Rideau Hall, exited his vehicle and wandered around a bit, and was eventually holed up in a greenhouse before deciding that surrender to the RCMP was the better part of valour.

Corey Hurren, who owned a meat store in Bowsman, 400 km NW of Winnipeg, has been charged with several counts of having loaded weapons on his person, including one restricted firearm, and of uttering threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He is also alleged to have had a ‘note’ with him, the contents of which are unknown to the public.

Much has been made of information that Mr. Hurren posted ‘QAnon content’ online and spouted a variety of conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19 (it’s all the elite’s fault, ‘Event 201’, and even the death of Seth Rogen and the sexual exploitation of Jeffrey Epstein). All of this is boilerplate to those who see George Soros or Bill Gates behind everything that moves. In this Mr. Hurren is far from alone.

But as my friend and QAnon specialist Marc-Andre Argentino pointed out, it does not appear, at least yet, that Mr. Hurren was a ‘die-hard QAnon adherent. In other words, he seems to have dipped his toe in these turbulent waters but not to be in the vanguard of those who blame all their woes on the world’s Illuminati.

This is indeed an interesting thread to follow but far from definitive. If my 30+ years in Canadian intelligence taught me anything it was to be careful with your pronouncements. It is very easy to look foolish if you come down strongly on one side or another only to later be proven wrong.

Watch Armed suspect at Rideau Hall and Trump denies Russian bounty intelligence

Much has been made of information that Mr. Hurren posted ‘QAnon content’ online and spouted a variety of conspiracy theories related to the COVID-19. In this Mr. Hurren is far from alone.

I think there are some very interesting aspects to this case, some of which I cite here:
  • What exactly did the alleged note say?
  • Was Mr. Hurren known to be in contact with likeminded people online who may have encouraged or urged him to act (there is never such thing as a real ‘lone wolf’)?
  • Did a downturn in business, COVID-related or not, drive him to drive 22 hours to express his anger?
  • Does he have mental health issues?
  • What was going through his mind as he was behind the wheel? 22 hours is a long time alone with your thoughts, hopes and fears; and
  • Was he actually going to use his weapons? Many who get to the precipice never jump.

I think it unlikely we will get any answers to these questions now that the case is before the courts. This is, of course, frustrating to many of us, including me (oh to be back at CSIS!). The information gap should not lead us to wild speculation based on little to nothing however. As hard as it is to accept, we have to be patient. As for why he was not also charged with terrorism, it is way too early to go down that road.

The RCMP did a great job

We also need to recognise that the RCMP did a great job on this one. The Force has been under a lot of pressure lately for doing things badly so we should tip our hat when they do it well. They isolated an armed man, talked to him, got him to surrender, and no one got hurt. Kudos to the team that did this.

There will be the inevitable security review at Rideau Hall, but I for one hope we maintain the openness/legitimate safety balance. Events like these are rare in Canada and there is no need to go into lockdown mode. A few tweaks may be all that is necessary.

I know that in an age of ‘instant analysis’ my call for a measured response seems anachronistic. Maybe even dinosaurish. Well, what did you expect from an old dinosaur?

This contribution was published on The Hill Times on July 9, 2020

Phil Gurski

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