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Canadian Columnist Echoes Praise For Toronto Officer Who Arrested Van Attack Suspect

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There's a video getting a lot of attention from yesterday's van attack in Toronto which killed 10 people. The video shows what led up to the arrest of the suspect. The driver throws open the van door and points what appears to be a gun at a police officer. Here's what happened next.

SCOTT GILMORE: There's yelling, but you can't hear what they're saying because of the sound of the siren. And then the police officer, instead of firing his weapon at obviously a menacing suspect, he reaches into his car and turns off the siren so he can hear what he's saying.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Come on. Get down.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Kill me.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: No. Get down.

GILMORE: He shouts at him to get on the ground. The suspect yells that he has a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I have a gun in my pocket.

GILMORE: The officer says, I don't care. Get on the ground. And in a matter of seconds, it's over. The officer moves towards him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Hands behind your back.

GILMORE: The suspect suddenly decides he doesn't want to die. He drops whatever's in his hand. He puts his hands up, and he's cuffed.

SHAPIRO: That was Scott Gilmore, a columnist for the Canadian magazine Maclean's. We now know the suspect did not have a gun. We don't know whether the officer knew that. Scott Gilmore talked with us about this encounter and said that unlike so many others, this one will be remembered as the one with the cop who didn't shoot.

GILMORE: You can almost see the moment of confusion with the suspect because he'd obviously thought that when he jumped out of the vehicle, this rampage was going to end in a slow-motion shootout and his death. And when the officer doesn't fire at him, he's confused. And he pulls his hand out again more rapidly. And then he says, I have a gun in my pocket. So the officer just doesn't understand what his role in this is supposed to be.

SHAPIRO: In this piece in Maclean's you write, (reading) I am paid to explain things and sound confident doing so, but I honestly don't know what to make of this terrifying, remarkable moment. You wrote that line about 24 hours ago. Have you reached any conclusions since then?

GILMORE: You know, I haven't. And I hope that eventually we're able to talk to the officer that was there and to try and understand what was going through his mind. But even then there's a mystery in human behavior. We have these attacks that are happening unfortunately very frequently. And they all seem to go the same way. And we always focus on the death, on this human instinct to kill. But this instinct that this officer had not to kill, to try to preserve the life of this man who he had every right to shoot, there's something remarkable in that moment and something that I'm going to have to think about for a long time.

SHAPIRO: There are some people today who are saying this officer should not be celebrated for restraining himself in that moment because if the driver had killed the officer or if the van had been full of explosives and the driver had triggered that bomb, the officer would have missed an opportunity to prevent further loss of life.

GILMORE: Well, I suspect a lot of the people that are saying that are, one, not Canadian, where he's being celebrated as a hero right now, and, two, are probably not trained officers themselves and never found themself in a situation like that or a situation where they're confronted with the ability to end somebody's life. And so I'm loath to second-guess what this constable was thinking or what he was doing and why he chose to do what he did. But I'm also quite happy to celebrate it for a moment because we focus so much on the carnage of these moments, of these incidents, these accidents, and so rarely on these brief moments of humanity.

SHAPIRO: You are Canadian. You're currently in New York City. You've spent a lot of time in the U.S. Do you think there's a difference in perception here between the United States and Canada?

GILMORE: Well, on this issue there absolutely is. This American relationship with guns and the police shootings that are so chronic here, we watch those with horror and confusion. We don't understand what drives that. And I think this incident in Toronto is probably going to elevate that conversation.

SHAPIRO: Scott Gilmore is a columnist for the Canadian magazine Maclean's. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

GILMORE: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.