Stand on Guard for Thee: a New October Crisis

“You heard what happened in my home? In my home! In my bedroom, where my wife sleeps; where my children come and play with their toys? In my home!” Michael Corleone

Holy shit you guys. I was having breakfast yesterday and had one foot out the door when the CBC news announced that they were working on a breaking story about a Canadian solider being shot. In the split second after the word “shot” my brain filled in: “in Kandahar/accidentally during manuevers in the Arctic/in a domestic dispute/” you know, the usual. So I stopped walking when I heard the rest of the sentence: “in Ottawa.” In Ottawa? Nobody gets shot in Ottawa. Ottawa’s nice, and maybe a little boring. But one thing is for sure: nobody gets shot there, and certainly not a Canadian soldier for Pete’s sake.

When I got to work I dialed up Twitter and couldn’t unglue myself all morning. Reports of a gunman (or gunmen) running around our nation’s capital. Like in any dynamic story, you don’t know what to believe and false reports mix with the truth (much like this blog, heyo!) but by the afternoon we had a pretty clear picture of what happened, but no real leads of why.

Some person (we now think it was just one dude, thank God) went up to a soldier guarding the national war memorial. We don’t know if he said anything to him or if he just pulled out a rifle and shot him in the chest. The soldier was part of an honour guard tasked to stand over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guard carries a weapon (for show) but no live rounds. It’s like a tourist thing, although at the same time adding a level of respect and relevancy to the memorial. (incidentally, my favourite war memorial. fun fact! Maybe a special blog post on war memorials I like and love is in order? Maybe for November 11th? No pressure.)

This shooter than apparently hi-jacked a car and drove it right up to the centre block of the Parliament Buildings. It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been to Ottawa and the Parliament Buildings, pre-911, for sure, but even then I noticed a heightened level of security compared to previous visits. I remember as a kid visiting Ottawa with my parents in the mid 1980’s and I seem to recall just walking in the front doors into the lobby where you were met with a smile by a helpful tour guide. In 1999, you couldn’t just go in the front doors, you went through some side entrance and through some metal detectors, but aside from that, it was pretty lax. I don’t know what the process is like these days, but apparently yesterday this guy just drove a car up to the front door and walked in.

The various caucuses were just starting their morning meetings when this was all happening. There’s an incredible photo of the Tory caucus behind a door barricaded by a bunch of green leather chairs while the drama unfolded on just the other side. The next few moments were captured from multiple angles (I actually wrote “multiple angels” just now and maybe that’s not completely wrong either). The gunman started shooting and Parliament Security led by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, returned fire and killed him. It was all over in 14 seconds and you can watch videos of the whole thing happen if you’re into that sort of thing. (I’m into that sort of thing.)

Deep breaths.

I’m so fucking mad right now you guys. I don’t think I’m overly patriotic (potential maple leaf tattoo excepted). It’s not very Canadian to flaunt how awesome our country is, we just quietly, maybe even a bit smugly, know this to be true. Sure, I’ll wear a flag shirt on Canada Day (or Dominion Day if you are of the old school) and I’ll get up super early to cheer on our atheletes every couple of years at the Olympics, but I’m not going to make a big deal out of how much I love Canada, and how lucky, how privileged I feel to have won the geography lottery by being born here. Having said that, hearing those bullets echo off the limestone vaulted ceilings outside of the Parliamentary library threw me into an irrational rage. “How dare they? In my parliament? in my capital? in my country? How the fuck dare they?” without ever stopping for a second to think who they or he actually could be.

I wasn’t thinking sensibly yesterday. But I’m so proud and grateful for those that were. Case in point: Mr. Peter Mansbridge and the CBC National News team. All day, Peter Mansbridge was on the air, providing updates and gathering information. His tone was understated and his attitude was cautious. He would constantly remind the viewers to not jump to conclusions about the shooter’s motives and background. It was a masterwork of unsensational reporting and so wonderfully Canadian (or at least Un-American) that I knew we would be okay as a country, despite all this. I still feel that way today. I don’t want us to suddenly live in a police state because of one terrible person and one terrible day. And further to that, let’s take Peter Mansbridge’s lead (in this and maybe in ALL things. That guy is legit.) Let’s not all of sudden bomb the middle east over this, okay? We don’t know if this guy is Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, FLQ, SPECTRE, or COBRA, or any of the above, right? It would be a shame to murder a ton of innocent people on the other side of the world just to show that we can. We’re better than that, *he said, with typical Canadian smugness.*

And what about the helpers? Remember that Mr. Rogers quotation that circulated after the Newtown shootings? I know its sucky but I still cling to that quote in times of “disaster”, as he put it, to look for the helpers. Look at all the helpers yesterday! The first responders and eye witnesses who performed CPR on doomed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the even-handed (for the most part) media reports, and of course the parliamentary security team led by Sergeant-At-Arms, Kevin Vickers. I mean, before yesterday, if I thought of the Sergeant-At-Arms at all, I pictured an older dude in a funny hat who carries the mace into the House of Commons. It seems like it would be a ceremonial position, maybe even a volunteer job for politics nerds to compete for. And I guess up until yesterday it was a mostly ceremonial role. But the position also has a real purpose: the responsibility of “the safety and security of the Parliament buildings and its occupants”. That responsibility was put to the test yesterday and as angry as I was to know that two of our national symbols were defiled yesterday, I also felt an unreasonable level of pride in the security team that ultimately did their job and protected the “Parliament buildings and its occupants” in the most simple and direct way possible. And you know what? That guy, the Sergeant-In-Arms Kevin Vickers was at work today, present at the House of Commons, where he was met with a standing ovation and tributes from all sides. It was a moving moment of setting aside political differences and celebrating a bit of unsung heroism in our midst. But seriously, shouldn’t he be put on paid leave or something? I mean, he just shot a dude yesterday. I couldn’t believe he was actually there and we are all okay with this. I guess we are lucky in the sense that we never had to deal with something quite like this before. (Yes, I remember the October Crisis of 1970. Well, not remember it, but you know.) and maybe we just don’t know the protocol. “Sure I shot a guy yesterday, but I’m all out of vacation time so I guess I’ll go to work. No big deal.” That sounds pretty Canadian to me. And on a side note, I would love to have a three worded hyphenated title, like “sergeant-in-arms”, or “aide-de-camp” so I suppose I could settle for “editor-in-chief” of this silly little blog. (But if you guys hear of any openings for an aide-de-camp, let me know!)

I’m calming down a bit, guys.

I hope this doesn’t “change” everything. I hope I can take my daughter to Ottawa one day when she’s older and we can get a tour of the Parliament Buildings and sit in on a session of Question Period and learn about our country’s political systems and storied history and walk those echoed halls and stop at the eternal flame outside and stand by the national war memorial (my favourite war memorial you guys) and know that this all stands for something. Not just 1914-18, or 1939-45, or even 1950-53, but 2009-? because I want my daughter to know that every day she’s lucky to be Canadian and that should count for something.

Artist: Bruce MacKinnon

Artist: Bruce MacKinnon

 

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