Watch: It’s been nearly a month since a lone gunman stormed onto Parliament Hill and quickly and easily got inside Centre Block. Since then, security measures have been increased, but there are still some worrying gaps. Vassy Kapelos has the details.
OTTAWA — The gunman who stormed the halls of Parliament only to die in a flurry of bullets would have a much more difficult time doing the same today, said one security consultant who toured Parliament Hill a month after the attack.
“The likelihood of him making it here on the basis of what I see outside is pretty slim,” said Doug Kirkland, a retired Ottawa police officer formerly in charge of overseeing demonstrations and other major events on the Hill.
It took only 80 seconds for Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, after abandoning his car the eastern gates of the Hill, to hijack a minister’s vehicle, drive it to the Peace Tower and charge through the front doors.
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Security footage from that October morning shows an RCMP cruiser, driver’s side door open, chasing the black hijacked car. A second cruiser joins quickly and, about 30 seconds later, a third. But they were too late to stop him getting inside.
Today, there is an increased RCMP presence stationed on Parliament Hill, Kirkland said.
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When asked what struck him first when he walked through the gates, Kirkland said, “More RCMP vehicles … very much so.”
A few ministers’ cars are parked in front of East Block, the same spot where Zehaf-Bibeau hijacked one.
“I guess they don’t have anywhere else to put them,” he said. “But there has got to be more controls there.”
There are noticeable changes up the hill, near the doors the Zehaf-Beibeau entered: An armed RCMP officer patrols the area directly outside the doors; installed on either side are small white tents where security officials provide extra screening for visitors entering Centre Block.
Just how much extra protection those precautions offer is questionable, Kirkland said.
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“It’s mostly optics. … It’s saying, ‘Here’s another level. If you’re thinking of doing this, you’ve got to go through this,'” he said. That said, optics often make people feel safer, and a big part of security is helping people feel safe, he said.
From the doors, Zehaf-Bibeau ran up a short staircase, through the rotunda and down the Hall of Honour, where he was felled by bullets.
One problem with the response to the attacker that October morning, Kirkland said, was an apparent lack of communication.
“For some reason, the outside, which was reacting, didn’t get the word to the inside,” he said.
More than two years ago, the federal auditor general flagged what he called a lack of communication between security on the House of Commons and Senate sides of Centre Block, as well as with the RCMP.
Auditor General Michael Ferguson recommended the “House of Commons administration, in consultation with its security partners, should examine … the possibility of moving toward a unified security force for the parliamentary precinct.”
According to Kirkland, the issue goes back much further than two years.
“From a security point of view, it’s got to stop,” he said.
The House of Commons is conducting a security review but those involved are guarding the details very closely.
“House security in not speaking until the review is completed. Decisions as to what will be released will be made when the reports are finalized, based on the recommendation of our security officials,” a spokesperson for House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer wrote in an email.
“For everyone’s security we seldom make any comments about security.”
On the whole, however, Kirkland said he sees a different, more secure, parliamentary precinct — for now.
“Will it last? I don’t know.”