A difficult week for Canada

Parliament came together in a way that could never be expected this week.  Sadly, it was because of a lone gunman who took the life of Cpl Nathan Cirillo as he guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before storming parliament and grinding downtown Ottawa to a halt on a busy Wednesday morning.  The hours that followed the rampage were confusing and terrifying but, as the dust settles, it is clear the event has made the House of Commons and everyone involved with it more resolved to protect and maintain our Canadian ways.

The story of the shooter’s rampage has been well covered by news outlets, but as someone who was metres away from the gun battle in Centre Block, I can tell you that the valour of House of Commons Security Services made all the difference on what could have been a much worse day for Canada.

When the gunman made his way into Centre Block he did so through the main entrance.  The first person he encountered was Constable Samearn Son.   House of Commons Constables are only armed with a baton and trained in hand to hand combat.  The Constables are supported by plain clothes officers who carry side arms, but the first person the assailant encountered was an effectively unarmed Mr. Son who pushed the attacker’s rifle away from his chest and shouted an alert that set a quick response in motion.  Mr. Son was subsequently shot in the leg and is now recovering at home.

It is widely reported that the Sergeant at Arms (Kevin Vickers) shot the gunman, but he has been effusive in deflecting any praise toward his well-trained security corps along with the Ottawa Police and RCMP, all of whom responded professionally, bravely, and quickly.  As Mr. Vickers was thanked profusely in the House of Commons on Thursday it was clear that he was uncomfortable being cast in the role of hero, which only makes him all the more appropriate for the job.

The events in Ottawa happened just two days after an attack took the life of another soldier (Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent) in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.   In just one week Canada has lost two soldiers to the horrific acts of two cowardly individuals. As people ask themselves how and why, our attention will surely shift to how we should respond to these attacks.   It will be important to ensure that we carefully review our laws and security procedures and make sure we get them right, without sacrificing the principles of freedom and democracy. I don’t believe we would be honouring the memory of the victims if we were to change the fundamental good of Canada out of fear.

If you didn’t see it, the image of our party leaders garnering standing ovations from all sides of the Chamber and embracing each other in obvious respect and relief was unlike any moment in Parliament’s recent history.  Apart from the speeches to honour retiring MPs, the House is never this unified.  With any luck there will be a long-term reduction in acrimony that will allow us to focus on issues and debate ideas.   That is a large part of the democracy that our soldiers have defended time and again.