Recent sudden and fatal attacks against civilians during COVID-19 lockdowns

22nd April 2020

Despite large areas of the globe being in various states of emergency and lockdown the past few weeks has proven that random, indiscriminate attacks against civilians continue to be an issue. This has most starkly been proven over this past weekend when Canada witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in its history, in which at least 18 were killed. Europe has also seen two separate stabbing attacks, one in France and another in Norway, with terrorism enquiries ongoing.


The recent mass shooting in Canada has highlighted the far-reaching consequences of this coronavirus in ways other than the social factors widely documented. The weekend saw a shooter believed to be a man named Gabriel Wortman perpetrate a mass shooting in which at least 18 were killed.1  It has since emerged that the circumstances of this coronavirus may have exerted influence on this atrocity through forcing the dissolution of the Canadian parliament and thereby disrupting law-making procedures.  This is particularly relevant as Prime Minister Trudeau reported that his government was ‘on the verge’ of introducing bans on assault-style weapons before parliament was dissolved due to COVID-19.2                         


Further to this, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Chief Superintendent Chris Leather has said that the closure of non-essential businesses due to this coronavirus outbreak would be looked at as a possible motivation for the shooting with the perpetrator having owned a successful denture clinic.3  This announcement from the RCMP raises several questions about the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health. It is important to remember that these measures can not only affect people’s financial security but also their mental wellbeing with the closure of businesses having the potential to affect an individual’s sense of purpose.


The lockdowns imposed in Canada as a result of this coronavirus has also had an effect on how people in the country are able to grieve through this tragedy with social distancing preventing those affected from being able to hold vigils and funerals.4 This inability to seek solace from the community can make an already tragic situation worse by prolonging the time it takes a community to heal. Recognising this Brian Sauvé, President of the National Police Federation, has said that they are ‘working hard to ensure all our members and their families are supported’.5


This feeling that such attacks are somehow worsened due to the ongoing situation was also apparent after the stabbing in the South-Eastern French town of Romans-sur-Isere. The attack saw two killed and several injured whilst queuing for basic necessities outside a convenience store during the lock-down.6 French President Macron was able to encapsulate the deepened grief of the country in a tweet in which he stated that the ‘odious act’ had ‘added more grief to our country that has already suffered so much over the last few weeks’.7


As has been shown in both France and Canada, the far-reaching effects of this coronavirus are still being realised and will continue to be realised as new situations arise. This has been demonstrated most poignantly in Canada with the anti-virus measures inputted by its government having disrupted law-making procedures, and potentially negatively influenced the ability to prevent the shooting. To a greater or lesser extent, this strain on effective governance will have been experienced by all countries burdened by this coronavirus.


From these attacks, we can see that not only do indiscriminate acts against civilians, including acts of terrorism, continue to occur even when the world is united in combatting a single issue but also that those who commit these attacks will always exploit a situation to maximise their impact. In these cases, both perpetrators were able to take advantage of the measures imposed to stop the spread of this coronavirus. This situation also demonstrates that it is important for governments not to develop single-issue policies in times of crisis, such as this pandemic, and to refrain from allowing other equally important policy issues to become stagnant during this period of lockdown.