Greater Victoria residents aren’t going to want to hear it but one of the resounding sentiments coming from New Zealanders living here on Vancouver Island is that if a terrorist attack can happen in New Zealand, it can happen here.
News broke early on Friday that shooters had murdered 49 people attending prayer at two different mosques. It was quickly deemed a hate crime.
“You wouldn’t expect anything like that happening [in New Zealand], just like you wouldn’t expect anything like that happening here,” said Craig Anderson, a Victoria electrician who moved here from New Zealand 10 years ago.
Having seen the shooting in the news before he went to bed late Thursday night (early Friday), Anderson couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. Today he’s still scratching his head.
“Christchurch is the same size, same atmosphere as Victoria and you don’t expect to see any hate crimes,” Anderson said. “When you hear about school shootings in the states, or terrorist attacks in London and Paris, you would never think that would happen in Christchurch, or New Zealand, it’s out of the way. You don’t think that something would happen locally, and this is the most extreme case of it. It sends shock waves.”
It’s the first mass shooting in New Zealand in 29 years.
Aaron Frisby, a sheet metal worker and longtime part of the local rugby community in Victoria, moved here from Queenstown 15 years ago.
“These types of things don’t happen in New Zealand, this is just something we see on television [in other places],” Frisby said. “Such sadness for not only those who died but New Zealand as a whole because that isn’t what we are about.”
Members of the Victoria community are gathering for a 3 p.m. vigil on Friday. Plenty of New Zealand expats are expected and organizer Alexis Masur also politely reached out to the local Muslim community.
Another goal of the vigil is to share awareness of the fundraisers underway to assist surviving victims and victim families, Masur said. As of noon PST on Friday the Launch Good United for Christchurch Mosque Shootings was near its goal of $500,000 (NZ funds).
Masur is currently studying a masters in emergency and disaster management at Royal Roads. Sadly, the shooting actually falls into her line of study, not as a natural disaster or technological disaster, but as a mass casualty event.
“Recovery for an event like this is the hardest part, there’s not a lot of mitigation for this type of thing in New Zealand,” Masur said. “New Zealand is not known for a mass casualty event of this type, it’s likely their level of preparedness isn’t very high. It’s why I want to be an emergency and disaster manager, to see see how can we push back against this in the future, and have better prevention and recovery measures, especially in policy.”
Dave Phillips manages local construction company NZ Builders, which employs nine New Zealanders and has four projects underway around town.
“I was up all night calling aunts, cousins, family, and a lot of them were locked down,” Phillips said. “At their jobs, at school, at the airport, everyone was locked down. It’s scary times.”
And now it’s a day of extreme sadness among the NZ Builders crew.
“There’s 49 dead for no reason and all those families are crushed today,” Phillips said. “Hate like that just shouldn’t exist.”
Phillips is part of the Westshore RFC rugby club based out of Juan de Fuca where he estimates there’s at least 20 New Zealanders in the mix. The team will have a moment of silence before its match against James Bay on Saturday.
“I’m sure most rugby clubs around B.C. will be doing the same Saturday, there’s [usually a New Zealander] on each team.
“It’s not who we are. I take great pride in being from New Zealand. It’s an inclusive society, I don’t think about anyone being from somewhere. We’re just all Kiwis, my brain can’t process how someone can feel that hate for someone else.”