I got a text from my son: “Are you on the Hill?”
“Yes” I replied. After all, I’m on Parliament hill every Wednesday morning.
Another text: “There were shots fired. Any idea what is going on?”
Outside I heard the sirens. Sirens are as normal in downtown Ottawa as in any urban setting – fire trucks, ambulances, police, I usually tune them out. This time I looked out the window.
A quick look online showed Twitter had the most information. A soldier on duty at the national war memorial was down, felled by a gunshot. Shots were reportedly also fired inside the Centre Block of Parliament.
For ten hours we were locked in our offices waiting for the all-clear. Security had serious concerns that there was another shooter still roaming the grounds or the buildings. Media reports were mostly speculation, but the passage of time indicated that the thought was that there was still another shooter out there. It took time to extensively search all the possible hiding places. It was frustrating for those of us behind closed doors, but we understood the need to be safe rather than sorry.
What does this mean for all of us living in Ottawa, where Parliament Hill is an open place for staff and public, right down to weekly Yoga classes on the lawn with thousands of participants? Will one incident bring about a cultural shift? Should it?
As I write this there has been not more information on the shooter or his motivations than we had immediately after the attack. He is little more than a name, so I will not speculate. I will admit though, I was not surprised that on various social media sites, while the shooter’s body was still on the floor of Centre Block, there were those suggesting the attack was a response to Canadian government policy. Maybe I misread it, but their tone seemed approving.
It’s a democracy; the government gets the blame for everything, sometimes justified, sometimes not. Those who strike at the symbols of our democracy, no matter what the reason, are rejecting the foundational values of our society. We have processes in place to air grievances and seek redress, processes that don’t involve murder as a political statement.
People always think “It can’t happen here.” I never thought that; I lived through FLQ bombings and kidnappings; I lived in Liberia at the outset of that country’s civil war. I know it can indeed happen here. And working on Parliament Hill I have been very much aware of the reality that my workplace could indeed be a target.
This is the world we live in. Comfort and security are very much illusions, things that can be stripped from us at any moment. While we expect to live to a ripe old age, we could face death at any point. You would think that might lead to some soul-searching and reassessment as people think of the possibility of an afterlife and want to prepare for it, just in case.
Or maybe not. After all, it can’t happen here.