Parliament Hill security: who is the Sergeant-at-Arms?
WATCH: Emotional standing ovation for Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers as House returns to work
As any visitor to Parliament Hill in Ottawa knows, security is not particularly intrusive.
Except during certain events, tourists and the public are generally free to wander the large green lawn in front of the Centre Block, and explore the parking lots behind the various buildings. On sunny days in the summer, the lawn is generally full of people playing soccer, throwing a Frisbee, or attending a yoga class.
There are often political protests on the Hill lawn as well.
A wall, topped by a wrought-iron fence, surrounds the Hill. There are several gates, at least a few of which are usually left open. RCMP officers from the Parliament Hill Detachment patrol the Hill grounds, and RCMP cars are usually parked on the small roads which run through the grounds.
Entering the buildings generally requires going through more security. Journalists, Members of Parliament, Senators and staff are issued with passes, which they show to guards as they enter.
Visitors to Centre Block must enter through a specific door, stand in line, and go through security scanning similar to that found at an airport. There is no public parking on the Hill, and unauthorized vehicles are not allowed on the Hill.
But, the front door of Parliament is often left unlocked.
“I think the intention was to try to make Parliament not look like Fort Knox,” Liberal MP Marc Garneau said. “But we’ve crossed a river today.”
“The point is, somebody who decides that they want to rush the building can walk up, rush in, show their weapon and then rush into the building before anybody can really effectively do anything,” he said.
Inside, security is provided by the House of Commons Security Services and the Senate Protective Service.
The Sergeant-at-Arms is the person responsible for the safety and security of the Parliament buildings and occupants, and ensuring and controlling access to the House of Commons. It also includes a ceremonial function – carrying the ceremonial gold mace into the House of Commons before every sitting.
Canada’s current Sergeant-at-Arms is Kevin Vickers, a former RCMP officer, who has held the position since 2006. He had been in the RCMP for 29 years, leading high profile investigations such as homicides and drug importations, as well as an investigation into the safety of Canada’s blood supply, according to a short biography released upon his appointment in Parliament.
According to some reports, Vickers himself may have shot one of the assailants inside the Centre Block. Two sources confirmed this to the Canadian Press.
If this is true, he wouldn’t be the only Sergeant-at-Arms of a Canadian legislature to take a direct role in stopping an attack. In May 1984, Quebec’s Sergeant-at-Arms, René Jalbert, subdued a man who had killed three people and wounded 13 others, according to a citation for bravery by the Governor General of Canada.
“At extreme personal risk, but with unflinching authority, Mr. Jalbert spent four hours persuading the man to surrender to police,” reads a statement on the Governor General’s website. He “almost certainly prevented a higher death toll” and was awarded the Cross of Valour for his actions.
John Vickers, Kevin Vickers’ brother, told Global News that he has not received any information on whether Kevin had shot the assailant, other than what he has heard in the news and from media calls. He said that Kevin called their mother in the morning to let the family know he was well.
“I’m just relieved that it appears he’s okay,” said John Vickers. “And just very proud of what he had to do today to serve his country.”
The Auditor General in a 2012 report found that House of Commons Security Services “responds to security risks and balances public access with the need to provide a safe and secure environment for Members, staff, and visitors.”
But, the report also suggested that unifying the various security forces across the Parliamentary Precinct could make it possible to respond to situations more efficiently and effectively.
With files from the Canadian Press