Watching the news today is not a good thing. Ottawa, Canada’s sleepy little capital city was rocked by something that only happens elsewhere.
Facts are still fluid, but here’s the known: Just before 10 am today an armed gunman ran up to a reserve army soldier standing watch at our National War Memorial and shot the soldier with what has been described as a long rifle. Our National War Memorial is about 350 yards from the Parliament Buildings, our seat of government. (Note to our American readers, our Parliament buildings holds both the Congress-equivalent and the Senate in one building called Centre Block, the one with the clock tower.)
After shooting the soldier who was standing guard over our Tomb of the Unknown, the gunman ran to the Parliament buildings and got into the building.
Moments later the shooter was gunned down by security, most of which was captured on video by a reporter from the Globe and Mail. You hear what sounds like a shotgun, then more than a two dozen small-caliber replies, probably from armed House of Commons security.
Shot and later pronounced dead in hospital was the soldier standing watch at the National War Memorial. Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, a reservist (like the National Guard for our American readers) of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, from Hamilton, Ontario.
The dead gunman was identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau a Canadian, born in 1982. There are no more substantive details forthcoming as of the time of this posting, but that will change. It appears the gunman had a criminal record for drugs in BC and Quebec. There are unconfirmed reports that he was a recent convert to Islam. Authorities won’t say if the shooter was on a watch-list for persons who may be radicalized.
Now, here’s the Unknown parts of the story: For a couple of hours there were reports of two gunmen. One witness reported seeing two people get out of a grey Corolla and run towards Centre Block. There were reports of several shots fired nearby at a large downtown shopping area, the Rideau Centre. There were reports of another gunman up on a roof overlooking the downtown area. As we said, it’s still very fluid as real, verifiable (meaning three sources, two of which are real, not tweets or Facebook postings) facts are not rapidly forthcoming from authorities. The facts will come out, but not right now.
The ugly part of all this, aside from the fear and the needless death is that our little town, Ottawa, is the scene of something very, very bad. Being a long-time Ottawa resident, more or less for most of my life, I take pride in the peaceable nature of the joint.
I’m proud that our seat of government is open enough that you can walk around on the front lawn, as millions do every year. Yes, you are under some serious video surveillance and yes, there are armed people around, but they’re unobtrusive and security isn’t in your face. We even have the RCMP, in full red-serge dress uniform, on horseback, every summer on the grounds, along with the Governor General’s Foot Guards doing the Changing of the Guard ceremony for the tourists.
Every Canada Day, there’s usually a quarter-million people on Parliament Hill, many of whom have had an ale or five, especially by nightfall with the Canada Day fireworks show. The worst that can happen is you’ll either get puked on, or surreptitiously fondled.
Protestors (and there are many each year) more or less keep the peace, aside from the occasional scuffle or some pushing and shoving. Rarely have we seen riot-geared police lashing out foggy clouds of OC spray, or water cannon hosing protestors down the sidewalk. We don’t roll that way up here.
Which makes me fear that the next victim of this ugly incident will be Parliament Hill itself. It will close up tight.