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Canada Provincial legislatures ramp up security following attack on Parliament

Surete du Quebec stand guard at the National Assembly in Quebec City after a gunman opened fire in Ottawa on Wednesday, October 22, 2014.

Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Heavily armed police officers rushed to the doors of legislatures across Canada moments after word of the shootings in Ottawa broke, closing public galleries and turning away schoolchildren waiting for tours.

While most provincial capitals received no information about threats before the shootings on Wednesday, officials in the B.C. legislature were told on Monday that Ottawa had raised its risk-assessment level. There was no indication that anyone in Victoria was a target.

The Canadian flag was lowered to half-mast and the public galleries were empty when the B.C. legislature resumed sitting on Wednesday afternoon. Craig James, Clerk of the B.C. House, said it was a difficult decision to close the legislature to the public.

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"This is a very public building," he said. "The public has the right to be able to enter the building and see their elected representatives at work." However, the incident in Ottawa led to concerns about the safety of the members and staff working in the building.

Security at the B.C. legislature has changed over the past two decades. Many sections are now behind locked doors to limit public access. The legislature was the target of a failed bombing attack on Canada Day in 2013.

In Edmonton, in the hours that followed the Ottawa shootings, armed sheriffs stood on the steps of Alberta's legislature, turning away anyone planning to tour the building.

"We have no information suggesting a threat," Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis wrote in a letter to staff about the "robust security measures." Because the legislature is not sitting, few MLAs or their staffers were in the building.

The Emergency Task Force, Toronto's heavily armed tactical unit, descended on the Ontario legislature as a precaution shortly after the Ottawa shootings.

In the half-hour or so between news from Ottawa and the start of the daily Question Period in Toronto, Premier Kathleen Wynne, Opposition Leader Jim Wilson and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath huddled behind the Speaker's chair in the chamber. They decided to carry on with business as usual.

"Our belief is that people who are using violence to undermine democracy want us to be silenced. And we refuse to be silenced," Ms. Wynne told the legislature, to applause from all parties.

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Ontario Speaker Dave Levac said the government has a protocol with Toronto Police to provide extra security when needed, as they did on Wednesday. Legislature security guards do not carry firearms. Asked if he was armed, Sergeant-at-Arms Dennis Clark said: "I have a sword."

With armed police officers posted in the public gallery of Quebec's National Assembly, MNAs continued Question Period at the direction of Premier Philippe Couillard.

"These are normal procedures when this kind of event takes place in any Canadian parliament," said Quebec Public Security Minister Lise Thériault when asked about the heavy police presence around Quebec's parliamentary district.

New Brunswick's legislature was closed on Wednesday following the shootings, with the sergeant-at-arms pledging to review security. In Nova Scotia, all bags were checked with metal detectors and, while members of the public could still access the galleries, they could only do so by invitation.

Meanwhile, an outdoor event planned before Saskatchewan's Speech from the Throne was moved inside and public access for the speech was restricted to those holding invitations – going against the tradition of keeping some seats for the public.

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