Kia ora koutoa katoa, I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today. I would also like to pay my respects to elders past and present.
Can I also acknowledge Dr Clifford Perera and the severity of the loss and trauma that was inflicted on Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. When I sent our city’s condolences to the Mayors of the three cities where the attacks took place, I said that none of these attacks was inspired by the faith that took Christchurch Muslim communities to their places of worship on 15 March this year, nor the Christian communities to their places of worship on Easter Sunday. It had nothing to do with religion or faith.
The attacks were inspired by extremism and were fuelled by a hatred that was designed to divide and to cause others to use this as an excuse to cause further violence and inflict more pain.
I admitted in those letters as I do now, that I don’t have all the answers. But I do thank the Congress organisers for the opportunity to talk to you this evening, not about what happened, but how we responded. Because it is in the response, that I believe we may have found some of the answers the world is looking for.
There is nothing that could have prepared me for the atrocity that was perpetrated in our city of Christchurch on March 15 this year.
We have had our share of challenges – earthquakes, floods and fire. Never in my wildest imagination could I have conjured up the images of any terrorist shooting, let alone a cruel and cowardly attack on our Muslim communities in their places of worship at their time of prayer.
Nothing had prepared me either for the sheer hatred that inspired this attack, nor then to learn of the dark places on the worldwide web where extreme misogyny, racism, religious intolerance, bigotry and prejudice add fuel to an already corrupt and perverted view of the world that could allow such a monstrosity to occur.
Nothing had prepared me to respond to claims about the impact of white supremacism, overt expressions of racism and religious intolerance within my own city. We now know where this ends.
Nothing had prepared me for the malicious and fictitious claims and counterclaims of retaliation.
Nothing prepared me for the realisation that there is an intention that sits behind these extreme acts.
No matter who the victims are – the intention is to create division – and to inspire further acts of violence.
As a city and as a nation, we have instinctively rejected hatred and said no to division – we embraced our Muslim brothers and sisters as one.
And we said to the world: peace, unity and love, compassion and kindness, these are our values – these are who we are.
That message reverberated across the world, and with it the image of our Prime Minister wearing a scarf – her pain and her compassion visible to all – embracing a Muslim woman. “They are us and we are them” were her words. Peace be upon all of us was the message to the world.
The aftermath of the event could have been different, if there had been an angry, hostile and divisive response. But there was nothing of the sort.
And in this regard I must speak to the role of those who spoke for the Muslim communities with such resolve and grace. We heard an infinite capacity for forgiveness, which was so eloquently expressed at the National Remembrance Service by Farid Ahmed, whose wife was killed at Al Noor Mosque.
“I don’t want to have a heart that is boiling like a volcano. A volcano has anger, fury, rage, it doesn’t have peace. It has hatred, it burns itself within, and it burns the surrounding. I don’t want to have a heart like this and I believe no one does. I want a heart that is full of love and care and full of mercy, and will forgive lavishly, because this heart doesn’t want any more life to be lost. This heart doesn’t like that the pain I have gone through, that any human being should go through. That’s why I have chosen peace, love and I have forgiven.”
When Imam, Gamal Fouda, said at the Call to Prayer a week after the attack: "We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken. We are determined to not let anyone divide us," we were humbled and inspired.
And with these expressions of humanity, the message has gone out around the world that this is how to respond to terrorism - not with retribution, but with generosity of mind and spirit, as we build bridges between communities and across cities and the world.
In terms of the local response, the Council and local Maori, Te Runanga O Ngai Tahu, worked together in partnership with the Muslim community leadership team.
The warmth and strength of the relationship that developed between Muslim and Maori was immediately evident as they found much in each other’s culture and beliefs to both offer and receive comfort and support.
Local agencies were able to rely on pre-existing working relationships and friendships to collaborate in a positive way.
As this is a WADEM conference I will mention the Emergency Medicine response in particular. The message is this: the response by clinical and associated staff in the 800 bed Christchurch Hospital was nothing short of extraordinary.
There were fifty people killed that day. Close to that number again were injured in the shootings and were treated at Christchurch Hospital. One patient died in the emergency department that day, and another sadly died last week, bringing the death toll to 51 martyrs. The extraordinary fact though remains, that once admitted, no other patient died, despite the horrific injuries that had been caused by hollow point ammunition.
The Christchurch mass casualty plan was well practiced, both in terms of exercises and also from other events the city has faced, such as the earthquakes. In this case, however, the range of trauma was greater than the earthquake, and involved a much wider range of surgical and other specialties.
Over 75 operations were performed, with 8800 minutes of theatre time, (over six days of continuous operating), in total. Patients spent 2271 hours in intensive care which coped by using beds in satellite wards staffed by extra ICU technicians. The high number of child casualties was particularly emotionally draining for clinical staff.
A key part of the response was the radiology department, which not only had hundreds of investigations to perform on the injured, but also carried out CT scans on the deceased. This later difficult piece of work was critical in enabling post-mortems to be carried out quickly and efficiently, enabling victims to buried as quickly as possible.
The third key component of the health response was assisting the relatives, their families and the wider community in the immediate aftermath of the event.
Social workers and specialist mental health staff provided a wrap-around package for each of the patients and families, and schools-based mental health team worked with local schools most affected by the attack.
There is a lot more I could include about the public health component, including gun control. New Zealand’s previous poor performance in tackling this issue was one of the very reasons this attack could occur with such devastating effect.
However, this was quickly and resolutely dealt with by Parliament, which recognised that any delay would play into the hands of the gun lobby as it did 27 years ago. These military style semi-automatics are now banned.
I want to conclude with a consideration of the challenges that remain, beyond the ongoing support for the victims’ families, the injured survivors and the witnesses.
As I have said, I have become much more aware of the profound impact of anti-Muslim sentiment, religious intolerance and other forms of hate motivated speech both online and on our streets. If we are to remain united, we need to stand up for and celebrate diversity, and we need to be the place where all are treated with decency and respect no matter who we are, where we were born or what our beliefs are.
We need to initiate courageous conversations about those things that stand in our way – I have reminded people that Islamaphobia doesn’t mean hatred of Islam – phobia means fear. And fear comes from ignorance. Knowledge and understanding are the only real antidotes for ignorance and fear. We need to find ways to ensure that we get to know each other better. We learnt that after the earthquakes – love thy neighbour is good, but getting to know him and her is a great start.
I remain very proud of the way our city and nation have responded to this terrorist attack. The bravery and professionalism shown by the Police, emergency services, hospital staff and many others; and the compassion and sense of shared humanity demonstrated by the people of our city, our nation and communities across the world, have shone light through our darkest of days.
What happened in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, March 15, 2019 will never define us. It is the response - the love, compassion and kindness - that says who we are. We do not stand alone; we stand together – as one.
Imagine, for a moment if you will, if that had been the response after 9/11.