One haunting image defines Wednesday’s horrific assault on Parliament Hill. It was the lady leaning over Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he lay dying from a terrorist’s bullet while guarding the nation’s War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. She was giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in a desperate effort to save his life. A complete stranger, she had been going about her normal day when Cirillo was shot at close range in the chest. But the 24-year-old reservist from Hamilton and dad to Marcus, who just started kindergarten, died during that fateful morning from his injuries.
The murder of a fine, dedicated soldier performing the most honourable of duties hits at the very soul of Canadians and our most precious ideals. That infamous day of violence was a strike not only against Parliament, our political leaders and law enforcement people but against all Canadians and what our country stands for – freedom, democracy, and peace.
The gunman, Canadian-born Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, had a criminal record and had lived, among other cities, in Vancouver. Once inside the Centre Block of Parliament, he strode down the Hall of Honour right past the Reading Room where PM Harper was meeting with his caucus then engaged in a shootout with police near the Library of Parliament. He was shot and killed by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former RCMP officer and the man responsible for Hill security.
Vickers, whose typical profile is in ceremonial dress and carrying a mace, performed his call to duty in a manner hailed as heroic across the country and, on Thursday, received a standing ovation from all political parties.
But for a few moments before the gunfire, Bibeau was just seconds from the Prime Minister. One turn and a kicked-open door could have led to a catastrophic outcome.
And the timing of the attack on Parliament hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Monday, just 48 hours before, Quebec jihadist Martin Couture-Rouleau is alleged to have struck two members of the Canadian Armed Forces with his car near Montreal. One soldier later died of his injuries. Couture-Rouleau was subsequently shot and killed by police. It was believed that the hit-and-run incident was linked to terrorist ideology and it raised the probability of a terror attack from ‘low’ to ‘medium’.
Our terror threat escalated when Canada committed to fight ISIS and join coalition forces in an airstrike on Iraq. Canadian CF-18s left on Tuesday.
De-radicalizing these malevolent, cold-blooded lunatics is easier said than done. While the disillusioned or misinformed have left Canada and travelled to the Middle East to continue their radicalization under the brutally fanatical ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant), some have returned to bring their barbarity home, 88 of whom are on a watch list.
Earlier this week, members of the B.C. Legislature had been contacted about concerns that Ottawa had regarding a non-specific security threat.
Questions are now being raised as to how it was possible that someone could kill a soldier at the Cenotaph, walk across the expansive Hill lawn, run up the steps of Centre Block and enter Parliament armed with a rifle before being stopped. Should security staff be armed? For sure, security needs to be heightened to confront future rogue loners or copycats seeking similar mayhem.
We took a hit yesterday. But we’ve touched the face of terror before. Think FLQ, the War Measures Act, Air India, the Squamish Five bombings. Bibeau, recently converted to Islam, was on a one-way walk into Parliament. He likely had no intention of coming out alive but planned on doing as much destruction as possible before, he must have surmised, he would be shot.
Wednesday was a wake-up call for greater vigilance.