The Day Canada’s Federal Parliament was Attacked by a Man with a Gun
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking later at Cirillo’s funeral, said, “He has now joined the ranks of so many brave Canadians who have gone before him, having given all in the service of their country.”
On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, chaos erupted in our capital city, Ottawa, when police received multiple 911 calls about a shooting at the National War Memorial.
A witness described seeing a man dressed all in black with a kerchief over his nose and mouth, holding a rifle and shooting an honor guard, point blank, in front of the War Memorial Cenotaph.
Within a short time the gunman ran up Parliament Hill and entered the Peace Tower entrance, which leads to the Centre Block, where he shot a Commons security guard in the leg. He then dashed up a set of stairs into the Hall of Honor, where he exchanged gunfire with three other guards, before charging down the Hall towards the Library of Parliament.
Politicians Were Prepared to Fight
That morning the Centre Block of the House of Commons was busy with its “caucus day” meaning that 150 Members of Parliament of the different parties and senators were meeting together in large committee rooms on either side of the Hall of Honor. A number of journalists and television news crews were outside the rooms, waiting to interview the MPs.
Alarmed politicians had to barricade the doors to their meeting rooms. Some members took ceremonial flagpoles to wield them as spears to assault any intruder if necessary. The Prime Minister was placed briefly in the closet in the Reading Room before he was taken away safely by the police.
The entrance to the Centre Block and the Hall of Honor was filled with smoke and the smell of gunpowder with cries of “Gun, gun, gun” as RCMP officers and security guards fired dozens of shots at the shooter, wounding him. Finally, the House of Commons sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers, armed with a handgun, approached him on the other side of the pillar and killed him in a gun battle with other Mounties.
By the end of the firefight, 56 bullets had been fired inside Centre Block by six police and security officers, in addition to the shots fired by the gunman himself.
War Memorial Shooting was More than a Tragedy
A Son of Canada was remembered
Corporal Nathan Cirillo was 24-years old, a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. That morning he was standing on ceremonial guard duty at the War Memorial when a gunman came from behind and shot him three times in the back. Several bystanders rushed to help and give first aid but he died in the hospital. He was the father of a 5 year old boy, Marcus.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Hamilton, Canada, as his body was carried atop a gun carriage to Christ’s Church Cathedral with members of his regiment, soldiers and police officers marching to sounds of muffled drums. His son was there wearing the Highlanders cap badge. Even Queen Elizabeth send her “deepest sympathy to all those affected by this tragedy…”.
The Gunman was regretted and forgotten
He was identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old homeless man who struggled with cocaine addiction and a criminal record of petty crimes. Earlier he had made a video recording his disapproval of Canada’s military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. He may have obtained a .30–30-calibre Winchester hunting rifle from the home of an aunt who lived nearby.
His mother, Susan Bibeau, tried to explain why he may have become more mentally unbalanced.
“If I try to understand the motivations of my son, I believe that his passport was refused and that pushed him into action. He felt cornered, unable to stay in the life he was in, unable to move to the next one he wanted to go to.… He was mad and felt trapped so the only way out was death,” she wrote.
But What Happens when Democratic Governments are Attacked
First, partisan conflict was replaced by collegial solidarity when all three party leaders crossed the floor to embrace (at least for one day).
Second, the words terrorist attack became part of national debate against mental illness and the lone wolves that commit terrorist acts.
Third, inadequate resources meant poor security which had to be improved by creating new forces, more training and coordination between various police and security agencies.
Fourth, the soul of the nation was attacked; everyone wanted to strengthen and unite because we believe in people’s democracy without fear or prejudice, respect for law enforcement and respect for governmental standards to duties and responsibilities.
Prime Minister Harper said: “We are also reminded that attacks on our security personnel and on our institutions of governments are by their very nature attacks on our country, on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all.
“But let there be no misunderstanding — we will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”
Finally, a quick thought, if it seems we hurt, weep and cry for strength and unity when disaster strikes, then why can’t we unite to celebrate our good wills and successes?