It was a situation that not many who heard or witnessed will be able to forget – shots ringing out in the halls of Parliament Hill.
Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP David Anderson was one of those who heard the chilling sound last week.
He was among the MPs who were under lockdown inside the Centre Block when gunfire rang out in the building on the morning of Oct. 22.
At 9:50 a.m. – nearly an hour into the caucus meeting – the group heard banging out in the main hallway, about 25 feet from the door. Anderson, who was sitting right by the door, knew within seconds what was happening.
“There was kind of an explosion and then a lot of bangs and crashes and we realized fairly quickly that it was gunshots,” he recalled. “Immediately people were trying to figure out what direction they should go.”
While their initial reaction was to try to get out of the room, they soon realized it was safer to remain where they were until they knew what was going on. They locked the doors, propping chairs against them as a barricade.
The prime minister’s security detail rushed him from the building. About 15 minutes after the shots were heard, security informed those still inside to stay where they were until the building was secure. Hundreds of people – including MPs, office staff and those working construction on the West Block – were kept where they were.
The Conservative MPs were in the room for the next nine hours until security cleared their room at 7 p.m. They were transported on city buses to the Department of Foreign Affairs building a couple miles away on Sussex Drive, where they were free to disperse.
Anderson said the security system in place worked. When the shooter entered the front door and shot and injured one of the security guards, security immediately returned fire.
“He took off down the hall and he got to the end of the hall and that’s as far as he got,” Anderson stated.
While Parliament Hill security are trained to deal with these types of situations, he said the MPs and others in the building were more shocked.
“I think generally it’s not something that we expect in Canada, so it was a surprise,” Anderson said.
He added that while the frightening ordeal was more of an inconvenience for most people in the building, the real tragedy is being felt by the family of Cpl. Cirillo.
“It will affect them forever,” he said.
The Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP noted there was a lot of encouragement coming from his riding as those back home watched and waited for news.
“We had limited communication in and out of that room, but it was clear as these tweets and emails came in to my phone that there were a lot of people who were concerned about the issue. They were concerned about us and it’s a great encouragement,” Anderson said. “It’s a privilege to be able to serve the people in that area, and it was very encouraging to get their response and their prayers and thoughts.”
In the wake of the tragic events, the prime minister, opposition leader and MPs are letting the nation know this violence will not change the nature of what Canada is about.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the country will not cower in the face of terrorism.
“We are… reminded that attacks on our security personnel and our institutions of governance are by their very nature attacks on our country, on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all,” he stated in his address to the country Wednesday evening. “But let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”
Anderson echoed the prime minister’s beliefs that the country’s spirit won’t be broken.
As evidence of that, Parliament resumed as scheduled on Thursday.
“We thought it was very important that we start the House of Commons this morning at its regular time, and we did,” Anderson explained the day after the shooting.
It began with an emotional standing ovation for Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers as he carried the mace during the Speakers Parade on Parliament Hill. The RCMP veteran has been hailed a hero after subduing the lone gunman who entered the Parliament Building. The gunman attempted to storm parliament after fatally shooting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist standing guard at the National War Memorial. The shooter has been identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32-year-old Canadian who was identified as a “high-risk” individual being investigated by the RCMP.
A moment of silence was held to honour Cirillo before Harper, Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May delivered speeches. As he finished his speech, the prime minister crossed the room to embrace Trudeau and later Mulcair.
“The prime minister and Mr. Mulcair made it clear that we’re going to continue to be the kind of country that we’ve been in the past,” Anderson said. “We need to work together. We’re not going to agree on absolutely everything, but we have a different way of solving our issues and problems than what we saw (Wednesday).”