Yesterday, a lone gunman shot a 24 year-old military reservist, part of a two-man honour guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier at Ottawa's War Memorial, ironically in the shadow of the Peace Tower. He died later in hospital despite attempts by civilians and first responders to save his life. Then the gunman crossed the street ran across the lawn of Parliament Hill and entered the Centre Block, down the very corridor where the government and opposition parties were separately caucusing. The head of Parliamentary security, known as the Sergeant-at-Arms encountered the gunman and shot him dead, thus saving countless lives.
I was glued to my television for much of the day in total disbelief of what I was witnessing. This is Canada and an armed attack, let alone on our seat of government, just doesn't happen.
When I was in my early thirties I worked on Parliament Hill as a journalist. I had easy access to everywhere in the parliamentary precinct. The House of Commons, the Parliamentary Library, cafeterias, underground tunnels and the Parliamentary Dining Room. Hell, I even parked on Parliament Hill. Back then the public could drive their cars around the Hill. Tourists were given tours of the Centre Block. Of course access by the public was restricted after 9-11. But it wasn't forbidden. After the events of yesterday, I'm sure security will be significantly tightened.
These events are so very sad on several levels. The murder of the reservist is, of course, tragic. The gunman getting past Hill security is unfortunate. But on a larger scale it appears to bring the war against terror home to Canada. How did this happen?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government recently outvoted the Opposition parties to join the war against ISIS. Now I'm a left-leaning liberal. Canada has a long-standing reputation as being a peace-keeping nation. I support that role. However that role has shifted considerably since the Conservatives took office. We don't know yet the intentions of the Ottawa gunman but our Prime Minister has called him a terrorist and the events yesterday coupled with the fatal hit-and-run of a military member in a Quebec parking lot by a known Jihadist supporter, who was later killed by police, makes one wonder if our declaration of war was the right move. Because now so-called ISIS associated terrorists appear to be coming out of the woodwork.
Harper's government also got rid of the long gun registry. Again I disagree with the move. Oddly enough the shooter yesterday used a long gun rifle to slay the unsuspecting and unarmed reservist.
The result of these events? Several things have changed irrevocably. On a local level Parliament Hill will likely become Fortress Ottawa. On a larger scale, Canadians, peaceful and polite as we are, have become targets.
For many Canadians, including myself, this is absolutely the end of the innocence.