Tighter security could be coming to Parliament Hill: RCMP

An RCMP cruiser drives past a stop sign on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2013.
An RCMP cruiser drives past a stop sign on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Parliament Hill security may be beefed up two years after the attack that claimed the life of Corporal Nathan Cirillo.

Two years after Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed Centre block, the head of Parliamentary Protective Services (PPS) says he’s open to putting measures in place to better screen people who want to access the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

READ MORE: Hundreds pay tribute to Nathan Cirillo, Patrice Vincent in Ottawa 1-year after deaths

Currently, people can enter the grounds unhindered, but that may not be the case forever.

“Wanding at the entrance of the (Wellington Street) gate, that’s something we’re looking at in the options to present to the speakers,” Chief Supt. Michael Duheme said.

In the 16 months since he was appointed the head of the new merged security force, several measures have been put in place to prevent another attack on Parliament Hill.

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Communications have been harmonized so that all levels of security can actually speak to each other, guards have been given handguns and RCMP officers are now more visible and more heavily armed on the grounds.

C8 carbine rifles are now in the hands of Mounties as they patrol Parliament Hill. The directive follows the report into the shooting deaths of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alta.

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The report found the officers were not equipped with an appropriate weapon to face someone with a semi-automatic rifle.

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Seeing officers with high powered rifles can be jarring to some, but Duheme says it’s just something people need to get used to.

“It does look somewhat aggressive, but it’s something that if you look in the European countries they’re highly visible,” he said.

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That visual deterrent is part of the changes implemented by the PPS. Others factors being considered include preventing ministers’ cars from parking in front of East and West block buildings, a direct response to the events of Oct. 22, 2014.

During his attack, Zehaf-Bibeau hijacked a ministerial car in front of East block and then sped to Centre block where he eventually made it inside and continued his rampage.

READ MORE: Why decision-makers have avoided making Parliament Hill a fortress

Despite increased security on the Hill, some still don’t think it’s enough. Former Ottawa police chief Senator Vern White is confident things are more secure, but he worries Parliament remains vulnerable to a more coordinated attack like at the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris last year.

“The number of access points we have to the Hill, they would certainly have access to the Hill and not be removed at the gates I don’t think,” White said.

White believes a terrorist group could get as far the front doors of Parliament where they would have the upper hand against PPS guards: “They’d enter into a firefight with people here who are not carrying carbines; they’re carrying handguns.”

Others though, don’t think Hill security should be in the hands of the Mounties at all.

“The Mounties are an under-staffed, over-tasked organization,” Steve Day, the president of Reticle Security and a former commander of Canada’s JTF2 special-operations force, said.

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While Day applauds the beefed-up security measures brought in by the RCMP, he believes an independent organization should be in charge of keeping the Hill safe.

“It could be like our own version of the Secret Service as an example, just a stand-alone organization that reports to one person and has a unified chain of command so that when something happens on the day, they actually know who they’re reporting to.”

For now though, the RCMP is in charge and they’re open to suggestions on improving security.

For instance, some believe there should be fewer access points to the grounds of Parliament Hill and the gates where people do pass should be equipped with guards or metal detectors.

Duheme is open to that idea, however with 3.5 million people visiting Parliament Hill every year, he wants to maintain the free-flowing access to the grounds.

“I like seeing people roam around here and that’s what we represent. You look at how we’re perceived in the world: welcoming. I like this. It’s finding a happy medium.”

But finding that happy medium could prove difficult as Duheme balances access to a building known as The People’s House and securing the most important symbol of Canada.

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