Island mason witness to Parliament drama

OTTAWA—Parliament Hill was on lockdown and military bases across the country were reported implementing extra security measures after a soldier guarding the national cenotaph was shot four times in the abdomen by a gunman with a long rifle who then fled in a highjacked vehicle to attack the Parliament Buildings last Wednesday.

Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers shot and killed the lone gunman inside the Parliament Buildings. Diving to the ground around the concrete pillar where the wounded assailant had taken refuge, the security officer, more familiar to Canadians as the man carrying the ceremonial mace into the House, landed on his back firing upwards at the gunman with his service pistol. It was scene more to be expected from a television police thriller than the hallowed halls of the usually sedate Canadian Parliament.

There have been two confirmed shootings, one took place at the National War Memorial, where the unarmed soldier Corporal Nathan Frank Cirillo was killed while standing ceremonial guard. The second was the gunman slain within the Parliament Buildings themselves. A third reported shooting at the Rideau Centre was later declared to be a false alarm.

Conservative Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenny announced on Twitter that the soldier shot at the National War Memorial had died, even as the hospital treating the soldier refused to confirm the death.

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Additional shots had been reported in the vicinity of the Chateau Laurier that was later attributed to echoes of the gunfire on Parliament Hill. It was confirmed that there was only ever one shooter.

An email sent to members of the Prime Minister’s Office ordered staff members to “shelter-in-place” and to not leave the building for their own safety. The same 10:49 am Wednesday email indicated that “there are currently active shooters in the Parliament Hill vicinity.”

All the party leaders were reported safe shortly after the shootings were reported in the media.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was hustled into a small alcove/closet in the back of the Conservative caucus chamber while his MPs fashioned makeshift spears from flagpoles in the room, hovering in ambush beside the chamber doors.

Following the shooting, the prime minister’s RCMP security detail hustled him out of the building.

Island expat Brock Size had a prime front row seat for the drama, high above the events unfolding below.

[polldaddy poll=8406565]“We are about 100 feet above Centre Block,” said Mr. Size. “I am building a tower right now.”

Perched on the scaffolding, Mr. Size and his co-workers at RJW Gem Stonemasons have a perfect view of the front and west of Centre Block. At first they did not think too much of the sirens they heard approaching.

“This is Parliament Hill and they are always holding drills and stuff, and sirens are not uncommon,” he said. “But this time there were a lot more sirens than normal and we starting looking over to see what was going on.” What they saw was startling.

There were more and more police arriving on the scene. “There were people walking around with machine guns and police officers with their handguns drawn,” he said. “There were people hiding behind statues and cars.”

Chain link fencing surrounds Mr. Size’s worksite, like most such construction sites in an urban area, but there is an open gate for trucks to travel bring in equipment and supplies.

“People were coming through the gate and hiding in the sea containers we use as job boxes on the site,” he said. “I said ‘this isn’t a drill’.”

Being on the outside of the building, Mr. Size heard the gunfire going off within the building and was witness to the heroics of some of his co-workers on the ground. “Some of the guys were over beside the building getting ready to put up some scaffolding for a job we are doing there,” he said. “People were trying to crawl out of the windows, saying ‘there is a gunman in here shooting people.’” The workers began fashioning makeshift ladders to assist people trying to escape the building.

“I saw them take (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper and his people out of the building,” he said.

As to the action going on inside, Mr. Size did not even begin to try to hide his admiration of the sergeant at arms and his security team. “It was like something out of a Steven Segal or a Die Hard movie,” he said.

Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes responded to a text indicating that she was safe and spoke to The Expositor even as the drama was unfolding outside her office door. She described herself at the time as “shaken and under lockdown.”

“They are still looking for the shooter,” she said. Ms. Hughes said that she could see SWAT team members on rooftops across the street. “The gunman was between the Conservatives and the NDP caucus meetings,” she said, adding “it would have been much worse had it been earlier.”

Ms. Hughes explained that one of her colleagues, who had just returned from maternity leave, had left to nurse her baby and could have been in the lobby at the same time as the gunman, but she reported that everyone was accounted for. “We are relieved that everyone is okay.”

Ms. Hughes was sombre as she discussed the day’s events. “We are all concerned about what has transpired,” she said. “Our thoughts are with the soldier who has been shot and our thoughts go out to the family.”

“We are fortunate to have the security we have on the Hill,” she said. “We are very grateful to the members of the security service.”

Ms. Hughes described herself as “still a bit shook up” as she spoke from the warmth and safety of her home on Monday afternoon. She expressed hope that the government would take its time in a measured response to the events. “We will of course expect a full review of the shortfalls, if any, in the security, but I hope there is no impetuous response.”

Ms. Hughes said that she understood that the government has indicated plans to table legislation, but that she fervently hoped that the majority government would not rush into legislation that would unnecessarily erode Canadian rights and freedoms.

“The professionals are saying that we have the necessary legislative tools to deal with this, we just have to enforce and apply what is already there,” she said. “No matter how much legislation you put in place, there will still always be someone who will get through.”

“We need to protect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to maintain people’s rights to a fair trial,” she said. “We need to learn, not just react. We need to learn from tragedies and to protect our rights and freedoms. Tolerance is important.”

Ms. Hughes surmised that some of the old security measures would have likely been more effective than some of the infrastructure that has more recently been installed. “There are these barrel-like structures that rise or lower to allow buses in,” she said. “Before, there was a police car that would move back and forth to let the buses pass. If that had still been in place it is likely there would have been an alarm raised sooner. I don’t know how safe that would have been for the police officer driving the car.”

Ms. Hughes reiterated her concern for both the fallen soldiers, the one shot in Ottawa and the soldier in uniform run down by a terrorist a couple of days earlier.

“One thing I do know,” she said, “we need a really good turnout at Remembrance Day ceremonies this year to show our support for our people in uniform. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of our murdered soldiers.”