In an emotional gathering following a dramatic and horrifying day on Parliament Hill, MPs returned to the floor of the House of Commons to wish each other well and to express the unanimous desire that Canada will not be intimidated by violence.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged MPs to get some rest and seek medical assistance if necessary in light of the stress many of them faced during a lengthy and tense lockdown following Wednesday’s attack by a gunman who was ultimately killed inside Centre Block’s Hall of Honour by security officials.
The Prime Minister also put MPs on notice that the Conservative government plans on strengthening Canada’s national security laws.
“In recent weeks, I have been saying that our laws and police powers need to be strengthened in the area of surveillance, detention and arrest,” Mr. Harper said. “They need to be much strengthened. I assure members that work which is already under way will be expedited.”
The man who felled the gunman was given a standing ovation in the House of Commons Thursday, where MPs returned for their first day of work after a surreal day in Ottawa that saw a soldier fatally shot and gunfire ring out in the halls of this country’s most storied government building.
Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers walked down the aisle of the Commons to uproarious applause, nodding to acknowledge the thanks extended by parliamentarians grateful for what many here have described as heroism.
Mr. Vickers is credited, along with other security officers, with shooting a gunman outside the Library of Parliament, at the foot of the Hall of Honour and near the rooms where MPs were gathering for their weekly Wednesday caucus meetings. Several have publicly thanked Mr. Vickers for saving their lives.
The gunman had stormed Parliament's Centre Block Wednesday after a soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, was shot and killed while standing guard at the nearby National War Memorial.
RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said in a press conference that the breach in security has driven Mounties to take a more pre-eminent role in protecting Mr. Harper in Centre Block. Normally, Hill security officers are at the forefront in Parliament even where the Prime Minister is concerned. RCMP Prime Minister's Protective Detail officers escorted Mr. Harper into Parliament's Centre Block Thursday.
And during Question Period, at least one member of the Prime Minister's Protective Detail stood in the gallery of the Commons chamber looking down over Mr. Harper.
House Speaker Andrew Scheer led the daily prayer Thursday asking for guidance before calling for a moment of silence in memory of Cpl. Cirillo. The quiet gave way to the tune of O Canada, belted out by the packed Commons.
Mr. Harper, who had about an hour earlier visited the National War Memorial, was the first to rise in the House, extending his thanks to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for their support the night before. “Today, more than ever before, I am very happy to see all of my colleagues from all parties in good health across the aisles,” Mr. Harper said.
He included a few lighthearted remarks, including a quip about the wisdom borne from his “growing number of grey hairs.” But his remarks struck a resolute tone, promising to resume parliamentary duties in the face of the tragedy.
At the conclusion of his address, Mr. Harper left his seat, walking to the entrance of the chamber to personally thank Sgt.-at-Arms Vickers. He then separately approached Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair, shaking their hands and sharing a hug.
Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Mulcair and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also spoke of resolve in the face of tragedy and thanked the Sergeant-at-Arms. MPs later lined up to do the same, waiting for the opportunity to shake Mr. Vicker’s hand.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay later provided more detail to reporters as to the new powers the government is contemplating.
“We’re examining all of those sections of the Criminal Code and all measures under the law that will allow us to, in some instances, take pre-emptive measures,” he said outside the House of Commons, with a copy of the Criminal Code tucked under his arm. Mr. MacKay said the government will seek to find the right balance between civil liberties and protecting national security.
“That’s the quintessential question. It’s a very fine balance,” he said. “We are always examining these laws of the context of not being overly-intrusive or trampling anyone’s rights. We do so with the backdrop of the Charter [of Rights and Freedoms.] We do so obviously keeping in mind other precedents and we have legislation, we have Criminal Code sections right now that if properly applied and weighed in the balance I think can keep Canadians safe. So this isn’t going to be a rash decision. It’s going to be a very calculated and well-measured decision when it comes to any changes in our legislation, I assure you.”
Mr. MacKay also indicated that the government will examine whether additional security measures for Parliament Hill are required.
While all MPs applauded the speeches of all leaders Thursday, some comments from Ms. May, the Green Party Leader, produced audible grumbling from MPs on both sides of the House.
“I would put money on these being the acts of isolated, disturbed and deeply troubled men who were drawn to something crazy,” said Ms. May. “I do not believe that it was a vast network, or that the country is more at risk today than it was last week. However, that is my opinion. I can be wrong. I have been wrong before, and I may be wrong again. I am undoubtedly going to be wrong again, but what I would like to suggest is that we wait for answers from the police before we make assumptions, and that we speak calmly, truthfully and openly to all Canadians.”
NDP MP Nathan Cullen said Ms. May’s comments were unfortunate.
“I just don’t think it’s for us to speculate one way or the other right now,” he said. “We know so little about what happened.”
With files from Steven ChaseReport Typo/Error
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