Parliament Hill under siege

‘Anything could happen. This morning, it did.’ Paul Wells on the Ottawa shooting.

Adrian Wyld/CP

Adrian Wyld/CP

We call it Parliament Hill, but it’s a big open field, sloping so gently northward from Wellington Street that, on sunny summer afternoons, you can see hundreds of people doing yoga on the green. What I notice when I visit other national capital buildings, especially in Europe, is how big and isolated ours is by comparison.

Security has tightened over the years. After 9/11, there was a pause for a few weeks while nothing changed. Plainclothes RCMP officers working in Centre Block complained that anyone who wanted could just waltz through the front doors. Then the front doors were closed to unaccredited visitors. The west door, which Members of Parliament use to walk straight into the House of Commons, was closed to reporters. Tourists go downstairs and wait in line to pass metal detectors. Once inside, they hardly have the run of the place. Most of the building is off-limits to people who don’t work there. Vehicles enter the precinct from a single entry point a block west of Centre Block.

But who were we ever kidding. Determined and well-armed assailants could always close the distance from Wellington Street to Parliament’s front door in a few seconds. There was precedent. In April 1989, a hijacked Greyhound bus drove onto the front lawn. In 1996, someone drove his car into the front door. And, as we were tragically reminded this morning, outside the Parliament Hill fence, Wellington Street is as open as any in Canada. Anything could happen. This morning, it did.

LIVE BLOG: Updates on the Ottawa shooting as details emerge
Parliament Hill shooting leaves soldier, 1 suspect dead
Ottawa shooting: Photos from the scene
Interactive timeline: What happened in Ottawa

Just before 10 a.m., I was walking along Wellington Street from the Chapters bookstore at Sussex and Rideau Streets, earpods in, connected to iTunes. I felt commotion before I understood it, saw worried faces looking up at Centre Block, heard a shouted interjection behind me and turned to see a police officer in black, carrying a rifle, running flat out toward me and telling me to get out of the way. Which I was eager to do.

This would, I figured later, have been less than five minutes after Josh Wingrove, a Globe and Mail reporter who was in the Centre Block to cover the weekly Conservative caucus meeting, tweeted that he had heard gunfire inside the building. Already, there were 14 police vehicles in sight, clustered around the front entrance or dotted around the lawn’s perimeter. More were arriving from every direction. So were colleagues from Maclean’s and several other news organizations. We split up and started interviewing witnesses. Soon enough, the work was interrupted by police, soon joined by Canadian Forces personnel, who expanded the security perimeter around the Hill, a block at a time over about a half hour.

The news, which colleagues are gathering while I write this, will tell you the rest. Here’s what I know about context. Starting on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, if not earlier, it has been obvious to everyone who works in Ottawa that Parliament Hill could become a target. In 2006, a ramshackle plot to storm Parliament and, perhaps, behead the Prime Minister, was undone by police. There are periodic reports that the PM’s security has been stepped up and, sometimes, colleagues will snark about that, on the general theory that if Stephen Harper needs a lot of cops around him, it must be his ego talking. I have never felt like joining in the snark. We don’t know what he knows.

This is the second fatal attack on Canadian security services in three days. There is no particular reason to believe it will be the last. The surprise is that it took so long. For a perplexingly long time after 9/11, extremist groups seemed intent on replicating the very large casualty count of a World Trade Center-type attack. The sort of smaller-scale, sudden attack that happened in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and in downtown Ottawa was always an option, one that is now being exploited.

This isn’t the end of any national innocence. It would insult Canadians to suggest it is. Throughout the decade of Canadian Forces intervention in Afghanistan, every military officer there said the fight there was designed, partly, to avoid one here. But you can’t keep a country on lockdown, not while preserving the things that made the country worth having in the first place. Much like its capital precinct, Canada is a big open field, too. Nobody can know what might happen next.


Parliament Hill under siege

  1. These may be violent acts resulting in the very sad and regrettable loss of human life, but this has NOTHING to do with ‘terrorism’ whatsoever. Military personnel and politicians ARE TACTICAL TARGETS who voluntarily participate in acts of war on other nations. We can’t possibly call it justice when Canada acts militarily overseas and then call it terrorism when they hit back at our military infrastructure. The correct term for these events is ‘blowback’. Canada has been joining in on the illegal attack of other countries in support of US imperialism for some time now, thus participating in massive civilian death and destruction (note that Syria is the SEVENTH Muslim country that Obama has bombed since promising ‘change’ in 2008), and Canada has been right there for a lot of it. Let’s certainly be mournful of these Canadian deaths, but let’s NOT call it terrorism (because that’s silly). And most importantly, lets proportionately concern ourselves a lot more about the 800,000 innocent civilian deaths in Iraq (to list one country of many who have suffered plenty more losses than Canada). Doing otherwise would indicate a bias on your valuation of human life and makes you a contributor to the problem (plus just an ugly person).

    • David Cook…

      Cleary, you belong in the NDP or Liberal camps.

      No one as deluded as yourself could be anything else.

      you’re a piece of sh it.

    • The high school bully won’t hurt me if I just hide in the washroom.

      The mafia won’t burn down my night club as long as I keep paying them protection money.

      The Islamist fanatics won’t kill us as long as we allow them to establish and enlarge their Caliphate, behead Christians, and murder thousands of innocent Iraqis/Syrians/Kurds.

      Keep your head in the sand David Cook.

      • Boy you sure scare easily. Blow things up out of all proportion too.

        • what the f do you mean really? day after day you spout your nonsense here in the farfetched notion that your are imparting wisdom of some kind. Here is some advice. Shut the f$ck up just for once, you stupid old bag.

          • Canadians are a calm collected people….obviously you’re an American.

    • I don’t believe that Wells used the word “terrorism” in any form in the piece.
      For mouth breathers like JAMESHALIFAX, it’s not a word that has a specific meaning, as he makes clear in the comments here. It’s just part of the hyperbole he heaps on everything, being as he is helpless to produce any kind of rational comment.

      • Lenny…

        Your inability to understand what I write, or to follow the argument is your failing. Not mine.

        You’ve proven repeatedly that you are just another useless idiot. But at least you keep trying.

        • You’ve obviously made no argument, whether you’re able to distinguish assertion from argument or not.

  2. Of course we know what’s going to happen next.

    1. Some bloc-head will stand up, and declare that the soldiers are dead because stephen harper sent jets to fight ISIL.
    2. Some other fool from the Bloc or NDP will stand up and declare this could have been avoided if Stephen Harper didn’t scrap the gun registry.
    3. Justin trudeau will provide an interview and blame “root causes” on the attack….and again, Harper will be blamed.

    In fact, the one thing we can be sure of, is that no matter what bill or act is passed by the Conservatives to try and prevent islamic nuts from killing Canadians….the NDP, the bloc, and the Liberals will oppose him at every step of the way; while simultaneously blaming Harper for “not doing enough” to stop the attacks.

    • Show some class and take a break to honour our fallen before you politicize this, ok?

    • …here ya go.

      Harper is an dangerous failure as a militarist.
      As in Macleans’ “Harper Goes To War” cover, he blatantly ran around the last few weeks bragging how we’ll join the fight with Americans “bombing” ISIS,…, all over the world.
      Harper and Bairds’ dangerous and extremest-right alignment with Benny (and the Jets) Netanyahu only made matters worse.
      Either way, his spindoctor PMO puppeteers thought all the above, and much more, would be great for the “polls”. ?!
      Ya right ! there’s nuthin’ like letting your enemy know when, where, and how you’re coming.
      Harper is nothing but a self-serving strategist, and he disgusts me now.

      We may not know if it was Jihadists today, or the other day, outside of Montreal, but we’ll know soon enough, and if, and “when” it is, then Harper made us a target, and brought this “War” to Canada today.

      • Rickster,

        Of course it was the “jihadis” in St. Jean, and in Ottawa. And of course the usual suspects will come out of the woodwork and blame harper for sending jets to bomb ISIL in Iraq. There is nothing surprising there.

        Also….I was also not surprised to watch CBC this morning and see Heather Hiscox interviewing a Muslim “representative” about the impact this will have on the Muslim community.

        Maybe someone should have told this Imam….there would be no impact on the muslim community……if only the muslim community, stopped creating these barbaric monsters.

        If you want to know what the “root causes” of terrorism are…don’t ask Justin trudeau. Anyone who’s been paying attention already knows what the root cause of terrorism is.

        It is the Quran.

  3. This kinda breaks my heart because this man was one of us and a Honor guardsman as I hear it .Too bad , now we all must watch- out ! We are stronger in numbers – I say fellows Canadians .Our enemy has struck twice and we are quite defenseless against such a radical bunch of Islamist gone haywire !

  4. Assuming this is political, and not just some ordinary gripe……

    This kind of thing is to be expected when we join in the 23 year bombing of Iraq, or sanction Russia …. the price of oil drops, the loonie does likewise, the stock market dives….and we have crazies shooting …..


    • We can always count on Emilyone to put forward the Liberal view even though the Liberals did some bombing too. She is unbelieveable. Radicals are here and the only thing we can expect is some people are mentally ill and will do horrible things.

      • Not a Liberal, sorry to disappoint.

        Now pull yourself together. Canadians are a cool people….they don’t freak out easily.

        • you are whatever the situation dictates your nonsense says you should be. Pathetic as always

          • Have hysterics someplace else please

    • This happened at the National War Memorial and in the Hall of Honour in the Centre Block of the Parliament of Canada.


      • So then think before you open your mouth.

        • good advice take it and shut up just for once.

          • Why? Cuz you want to sound tough?

      • Sadly, it’s much worse and tragic than just “POLITICAL”, it’s about a radical R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N ?!

        • Close Rickster:

          I know that as a person who wants to be identifed as a “progressive” you cannot allow yourself to state the obvious. I’ll do it for you using your own words with just one simple correction.

          “Sadly, it’s much worse and tragic than just “POLITICAL”, it’s about a radical I-S-L-A-M. ?!

          Just thought I’d fix that for you.

          Political Correctness is just the ability to not state the obvious

  5. Hmm, an extremist group of one a few months ago in Moncton.
    An extremist group of one a couple of days ago in Quebec’
    An extremist group of one today in Ottawa.
    What is to be done ?
    F-35s ? A War on Terror of Extremist Groups of One ?

    • LOL yup F-35s would do it.

      Mind you we had that bunch of kids with paintball, and trips to Timmies that thought they were comic book heroes.

  6. He grew up Michael Joesph Hall in Quebec. In the past ten years he had been arrested numerous times for drug possession and robbery and recently had his passport seized after being designated a ‘high-risk traveler.’

    Lone nutbar.

  7. The Ottawa attack was NOT an ISIL terror attack. It was 1 sick man, who knew he was sick. The fear mongering on here is terrifying. Clearly there are bad things in the world; and people must be diligent.
    However, using a completely unrelated attack as a call to arms against an entire religion is not only ignorant, but misguided. Over our history, how many people has Christianity killed in the name of its religion? Is every Christian a radical who wants to kill you for not believing what that believe? No, of course not. But you could easily see how the bibles teachings can be twisted to suit a violent PERSONAL ideology. The same thing goes for the Muslim religion. (Again; and I shouldn have to say this, has nothing to do with the attack in Montreal)
    The fear that is being spread through lies and half truths has to stop. There are frightening terrorists right now that have to be stopped; they happen to be hiding behind a twisted view of the Muslim religion; that does not mean ALL Muslims. Look for blame in the people that are causing harm, NOT the religion they happen to be hiding behind. Reason and critical analysis is what saves us; not condemning an entire group out of fear from a handful.

    • IR-Rational Thought:

      Give your head a shake.

      Look around you. What religion is responsible for the vast majority of terrorism and mayhen in the world today? (Hint: it ain’t Christianity).

      When is the last time a Christian cohort went on a rampage and murdered innocent people?

      Now, the next time a terrorist act occurs….what are the chances it will be caused by Muslim adherents?

      When do you think the next Islamic terror attack will happen?

      I’d say some time before lunch today.

      It is idiots like you who are part of the problem. You refuse to state the obvious, as you are more concerned about how other “progressives” view you, instead of actually facing reality and making the hard decisions required to stop the atrocities.

      Don’t sweat it “rational”……other people will take care of it for you. Just hide behind your progressive credentials and feel good about yourself. Your moral superiority won’t stop folks in uniform from protecting you.

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