Stephen Harper, a Prime Minister at war and now the leader of a country that has come under attack, used a televised address to declare the Ottawa shootings a terrorist act and rally Canadians behind the need to hunt down extremists.
Speaking from 24 Sussex Dr., the Prime Minister’s official residence, on Wednesday evening, Mr. Harper ended a 10-hour absence from the public eye by vowing no safe haven for those who would bring “savagery to our shores.”
While police were reluctant to share early theories as to what happened, the Prime Minister left no doubt as to what he thought occurred.
“In the days to come, we will learn more about the terrorist and any accomplices he may have had, but this week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” Mr. Harper said.
The tragedy in Ottawa is the second time this week a Canadian soldier has been murdered on home soil; on Monday, a suspected Islamic extremist killed one Canadian Forces member in Quebec.
The incidents took place just as Mr. Harper deployed warplanes to the Middle East to join a U.S.-led fight against Islamic State jihadis in Iraq. When the gunman stormed Parliament Hill on Wednesday, Mr. Harper was only steps away behind wooden doors.
The Prime Minister was speaking to his Conservative caucus meeting in Parliament’s Centre Block shortly before 10 a.m., when Tory MPs heard gunfire outside their room, sources say.
“It was bloody close and high drama,” one Conservative member of Parliament said. “The gunfight seemed to be all around us and we had no idea what was going on.”
MPs used chairs to barricade the main doors to the caucus meeting room. It was a “tense 10 to 15 minutes” inside the Tory caucus room before a heavily armed RCMP protective detail whisked Mr. Harper away by motorcade, MPs said.
Mr. Harper, who made the controversial decision to join the war in Iraq against Islamic State jihadis, warned Canadians recently that this country would be a target.
The attacks are a defining moment for the Conservative Leader. In the weeks and months ahead, he will have an opportunity to build support for his foreign policy – but also faces the risk Canadians will grow weary of the consequences of a get-tough approach to terrorism abroad.
On Wednesday night, the Prime Minister signalled he’s embracing the challenge posed by the two attacks on Canadians soldiers, vowing to ensure the country’s security services, already facing questions about civil liberty intrusions, would do what is needed to fight threats.
The government is poised to table a controversial counterterrorism bill shortly. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has said the bill will give Canada’s spy agencies new powers to track Canadians abroad and share intelligence with other countries.
“We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated,” Mr. Harper said in his TV address.
“This will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home, just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with a hope” of attacking Canada, the Prime Minister said.
Mr. Harper has made the military and security a hallmark of his administration.
In fact, the soldier killed at the National War Memorial was part of an expanded honour-guard program set up by the Conservatives to keep a vigil over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from April to November each year.
In his TV address, Mr. Harper called the war memorial a “sacred place” and described the killing of Corporal Nathan Cirillo as anti-Canadian, saying such incidents are attacks “on our values, on our society, on us Canadians as a free and democratic people who embrace human dignity for all.”
The Prime Minister kept a low profile after the morning attacks.
Aides refused to disclose Mr. Harper’s location but tweeted a photo of him being briefed by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.
He didn’t surface until his brief televised address just after 8 p.m.Report Typo/Error