Authorities in Canada have locked down Parliament Hill, the heart of the country’s national capital, Ottawa, after a yet-to-be-publicly-identified assailant fatally shot a soldier guarding Canada’s War Memorial, then entered Centre Block and began firing at people there before being killed by security. Fittingly, the man who took the gunman down was said to be Parliament’s sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers.
Centre Block, for those unfamiliar with Ottawa, is the most famous building in the Canadian capital. It is the equivalent of the domed Legislative Building here in Washington or the U.S. Capitol building in the District of Columbia. It contains the chambers of the Canadian House of Commons and the Senate. Its most prominent feature is the Peace Tower, which is almost one hundred meters tall.
Alarmingly, at the time of the attack, Canada’s political leaders were inside Centre Block for caucus meetings. Fortunately, none of them were harmed. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was taken away by the authorities to a secure location immediately following the incident. He was later telephoned by President Barack Obama, who offered any support and resources that the United States could provide.
The White House released a readout of the call, which said:
President Obama spoke by phone with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to express the American people’s solidarity with Canada in the wake of attacks on Canadian Forces in Quebec on October 20 and in Ottawa on October 22. President Obama condemned these outrageous attacks, and reaffirmed the close friendship and alliance between our people. The President offered any assistance Canada needed in responding to these attacks. Prime Minister Harper thanked the President and the two leaders discussed the assault and agreed to continue coordination between our governments moving forward.
Speaking to MSNBC, Member of Parliament Charlie Angus said that had the gunman entered Centre Block an hour later, it is likely that the caucus meetings would have concluded, and that MPs would have been out in the halls speaking to the press.
It is not yet clear how the gunman managed to get into Centre Block. From having visited Parliament Hill in July, I can attest that entrances and exits to the building are monitored and guarded. All visitors are swept by security prior to entering Centre Block for guided tours, or to go up the Peace Tower.
A number of buildings in Ottawa remain on lockdown. Centre Block, East Block, and West Block are all closed to the public right now. West Block was actually already closed; it’s been undergoing renovations for months. The nearby U.S. Embassy, which is very close to Parliament Hill, was also sealed off.
Ottawa is a charming city and a fairly safe place. I’ve described it to friends as a cross between the District of Columbia and London. Ottawa is actually home to more people than San Francisco, but it doesn’t feel like a large city at all. Partly that’s because it is much more spread out than cities of comparable size.
By afternoon, all of Canada’s major parties had issued statements in response to the shootings. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office said he would speak to the nation in a televised address this evening.
We extend our condolences to the family of the soldier who was killing and our sympathies to those wounded in the attack. Hopefully they’ll all recover.