Why decision-makers have avoided making Parliament Hill a fortress

To the naked eye, not much has changed. But a lot of small adjustments have been made in the wake of last year’s attack on Parliament Hill.

Tourists still mill about the Centennial Flame and up the steps, stopping to snap pictures as they gaze up at the Peace Tower. Locals pass by the open gates on Wellington Street, and those who work in the parliamentary precinct come and go, as always, without much interference.

A few more RCMP vehicles dot the driveways and parking lots, but for the most part, things today look much the way they did on Oct. 22, 2014, when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed into the Hall of Honour and opened fire.

Looks can be deceiving, however. On closer inspection, a visitor might note that RCMP officers are now holding submachine guns as they patrol the grounds. The security personnel guarding Parliament have also become one unified force (the Parliamentary Protective Services), rather than the former hodge-podge of security departments guarding the Senate, House of Commons and surrounding property.

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There are a few more police vehicles, and a few more guards. Reports suggest there are also more security cameras and additional staff to monitor those feeds. An armed “Quick Response Team” is permanently posted outside, and a new security checkpoint has been created outside the main screening area under the Peace Tower, with bags checked before tourists and visitors can pass through the doors.

Still, Parliament Hill remains a pretty accessible place. That doesn’t surprise Jez Littlewood, an assistant professor of international affairs at Carleton University.

” You could make Parliament Hill a fortress, if you so wished,” Littlewood said.

“But I think there would be a lot of push-back from the MPs themselves, as well as from the public.”

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Improvements to closed-circuit camera monitoring and intelligence sharing are examples of security efforts that “are not in your face, hidden from public view,” said Littlewood. These can be just as effective as walls or checkpoints.

The integration of the various Hill security forces is the biggest shift, and Littlewood said it will likely be some time before everyone has adjusted to the new structure.

“Many of the smaller bureaucratic issues, such as ‘can they talk to each other over the radio?’ for example, should be on the way to resolution,” he said.

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“But it’s going to be a learning curve for all of them, and there will be some trips and some challenges as it evolves over a period of time.”

In a statement provided to Global News, the RCMP said the following changes have also taken place over the last 12 months:

  • Increased radio communication/efficiency
  • The implementation of an emergency notification system
  • The establishment of a training unit to develop exercises and initiatives for all security personnel
  • The creation of a special intelligence unit to be proactive in identifying risks to Parliament Hill

The RCMP did not confirm whether all of the 66 recommendations issued by the Ontario Provincial Police in the wake of Zehaf-Bibeau’s lone-wolf attack on the Hill have been implemented. Most were redacted in the OPP’s final report.

A Change to Bill C-51?

Also making headlines on the anniversary of the attack on Parliament was the potential creation of a parliamentary committee to provide oversight for Canada’s top intelligence-gathering agencies. According to several reports, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau and his party are hoping to create the special body via amendments to controversial anti-terror legislation Bill C-51. The Conservatives introduced the bill in the wake of the attack, but critics felt it gave too much power to spy agencies while failing to ensure someone was, in turn, keeping an eye on them.

“There are a lot of details which will have to be worked out,” Littlewood said of the proposed parliamentary committee, which would likely mirror similar ones in countries like the United Kingdom.

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“Will they have access to classified information? If so, how will that work? In practice, how will it get from one place to another? Some members of the Houses will therefore have more information than others. These are not unknown challenges. Other countries have dealt with them … but it’s not an easy option.”



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