House of Commons guards will soon all carry guns, and eventually be merged with Senate security in response to last month's shooting on Parliament Hill.
The move to arm the guards was revealed during a committee appearance on Thursday by House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers and other House officials.
Arming the House of Commons guards is one of several changes being made after the Oct. 22 attack on Parliament Hill. The shooting happened on a Wednesday, when party caucuses hold weekly meetings during sessions of Parliament.
Mr. Scheer told a committee on Thursday that tours of the main Parliament building have been suspended during caucus meetings; more RCMP officers have been added to security outside the building; fewer people are being allowed on each tour; more doors are being locked outside of business hours; and MPs have been offered funds to make security upgrades to constituency offices outside Ottawa.
The plan to merge the House of Commons and Senate security forces was announced earlier this week.
Previously, only some House of Commons guards carried guns. Now all will, although it is unclear when training will be completed and the new policy fully in place. A spokeswoman for Mr. Scheer declined to provide further details on the security plan.
The Senate decided in June to "deploy armed, uniformed personnel within the Senate precinct in the coming months," but it is not known how many of its guards are currently armed or whether all will have weapons after the two teams merge. A spokeswoman for the Senate said she could "not comment on the number of guards that will carry guns."
Meanwhile, security reviews are ongoing and other changes may be made, Mr. Scheer said, calling it an "incremental approach."
"From those reviews and from those analyses, it will spark more conversations about the best way to move forward," he said.
Arming House of Commons guards required firearms training, and boosted overtime claims as guards juggled training and their regular jobs, the committee of MPs heard on Thursday.
Mr. Vickers brushed aside questions of overlap among the security forces in and around Parliament Hill – House of Commons and Senate security work inside the building, the RCMP handle the grounds, and the Ottawa Police are responsible for the downtown core. On the day of the Oct. 22 shooting, Patrick McDonell, the director-general of security services and deputy sergeant-at-arms, worked closely with the Ottawa Police and RCMP to co-ordinate the response, Mr. Vickers told MPs. He said such co-ordination has been used more frequently in emergencies.
"Instead of that old question [of] 'Who is in charge,' that is now shifting to a management cell, an emergency management cell, where you have the police leaders of each respective agency in a cell, working together, being able to respond," Mr. Vickers said.
The unification of House of Commons and Senate security may save money, but other improvements could raise the $22-million security budget for Parliament, Mr. Scheer said on Thursday.
Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski, who has sat on the committee since 2006, said the move to unify the security teams was welcome but overdue.
"The concept of unification and security has been one that this committee has embraced for all of that time" since 2006, Mr. Lukiwski said during the meeting. "It has never happened until now. Unfortunately, it took such an incident as Oct. 22, I guess, to get us to that point. But it's certainly a move in the right direction. I think it's the right thing to do."
Mental health services remain available to guards in the aftermath of the shooting, said Mr. Vickers, who was hailed for his role in the security response that ended the attack. "However, I am sure that our members are in good health, and if they need anything, everything is available to them," Mr. Vickers said.