Learn the lesson of the bad bomb

You've probably never heard of Paul Joseph Chartier, but you should have.

Chartier died in 1966 in a washroom in the Centre Block of Parliament in Ottawa.

article continues below

The Alberta-born former truck driver and unemployed security guard had been planning to throw a home-made dynamite bomb from the public gallery into the main chamber.

According to notes found after his death, he was prepared to die.

He had ranted against politicians, the rich and homosexuals. He planned to somehow become prime minister himself, and wanted to appoint a Toronto alderman, June Marks, as his "vice president."

Had Chartier succeeded, we would remember him today, possibly as the man who killed or injured Prime Minister Lester Pearson or dozens of other MPs.

Instead, he's remembered (when he's remembered) as a failed bomb maker.

His bomb, assembled from 10 sticks of dynamite, went off as he left the washroom after lighting the fuse.

He was killed instantly, but the washroom's heavy wooden door otherwise contained the blast.

No one else was hurt. The Parliament building needed a few new porcelain thrones, but that was about it as far as physical damage went.

Chartier was not a member of a movement, so there was no one else to arrest or hunt down.

So the most remarkable thing about the affair is that, afterwards, almost nothing happened.

There was talk of beefing up security on Parliament Hill, but a few months later, some student journalists from a university radio station snuck in with concealed recording equipment.

They taped a Question Period - still a no-no back then - and played it on the air to prove that they could have brought in bombs if they'd wanted to.

It was only after that embarrassing incident that security was actually stepped up.

We treat near-misses so differently from hits.

If you're in a car accident, even one that doesn't hurt anyone, it shakes you up. Hopefully, it shakes you up enough to make you drive more cautiously. If you almost get hit, your reaction is not the same.

I was almost run off the road the other day by a van driver merging onto the highway. He didn't look at me at all, just hit the gas and almost sideswiped me.

I was a bit shaken, but he clearly didn't notice anything was amiss.

On a larger level, there were two attacks on the World Trade Centre towers.

In 1993 a truck bomb actually came fairly close to knocking down the buildings and killed six people.

But the buildings didn't fall and the damage was largely hidden underground.

New York and America went about their business with only a few pundits and spies worried about extremist loons from the Middle East.

Compare that to the world-shaking changes in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Why the different responses? The attackers in both cases had almost identical motivations, almost identical aims.

Humans don't seem to understand that close counts, and not only in horseshoes.

Chartier managed to remove himself as a threat after one incident.

But as people and communities, we face near misses all the time, from terror attacks to oil spills.

We have to learn the right lessons from the near misses, and put the lessons into practice.

That way, we can perhaps prevent the sickening crunch that will come if we don't.

Matthew Claxton is a reporter at the Langley Advance.

Read Related Topics

© Richmond News