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Politics Several questions unanswered two months after Centre Block shooting

The Sargeant-at-arms of the House of Commons Kevin Vickers walks past the library where Michael Zehaf Bibeau was gunned down, on Thursday October 23, 2014 in Ottawa.


Parliament Hill gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was wounded, trapped and bleeding before his fatal shootout with Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers and others – and it may be impossible to pinpoint who fired the shot that killed him, sources say.

Two months after the Centre Block shooting, several probes continue in secrecy with no official account of the attack. Separate Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, coroner and forensic-pathologist investigations are ongoing and unfinished.

A picture of the shooting and its fallout, however, is emerging. The Globe and Mail spoke in recent weeks with guards and other sources familiar with the Oct. 22 shooting. Among the findings are several unanswered questions.

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  • It is not clear, and may ultimately never be determined, who killed Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, despite Mr. Vickers being widely credited with killing the gunman. Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was shot as many as five times before he reached the final shootout, including in the chest, sources say, and was shot repeatedly again in the final shootout as some guards feared he had a bomb strapped to him.
  • Tensions have emerged between the RCMP and House of Commons over the handling of the response and the investigation, and members of both sides believe they fired first at Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau in the final shootout.
  • The autopsy process is not yet done, with final reports and other tests, such as for toxicology, still incomplete. That process has put Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau and his victim, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, on something of a tandem path with each autopsy report due to be reviewed personally by Ontario’s top forensic pathologist.
  • It’s unclear what details will ever be made public, as many of the reports will be kept under wraps even when finished. Parliamentary guards, meanwhile, are eager for the release of any official report on the matter to lay out, in the words of one guard, “the truth.”

Who killed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau?

The gunman entered Centre Block at 9:53 a.m., with RCMP in pursuit after he'd shot and killed Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the nearby National War Memorial. Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was confronted by Constable Samearn Son, who saw the gun when it was pointed at his co-worker and grabbed it, yelling, "gun, gun, gun" to warn others. Constable Son was then hit in the foot by a ricocheting bullet.

RCMP who had been chasing the shooter heard the gunfire and took cover, delaying their entrance to the building. Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was struck at least once by a plainclothes guard stationed atop the short flight of stairs into the rotunda, sources say. It didn't stop Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, though, and he ran down the Hall of Honour toward the Library of Parliament. A second plainclothes guard shot at him, halfway up the hallway and across it, as he ran by, sources say, lodging a bullet in the opposite door leading to an NDP caucus meeting. Some guards believe that shooter also struck Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, and Mr. Vickers himself has suggested Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was struck several times during his sprint.

"We think the bad guy was hit by four or five bullets before I [arrived], but he kept running, he just kept running," Mr. Vickers can be heard saying in video released from a trip last month to Israel. Other sources told The Globe and Mail Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was shot at least once, "probably" twice and possibly "several" times before he even reached that final showdown. His injuries included a shot to the chest, sources say. One guard said it's believed he would have bled to death within three minutes. But he'd die before that.

A wounded Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau braced himself against the pillar at the end of the hall, and security officials closed in – House of Commons guards stood outside the Conservative caucus meeting in the hallway to the west, Mr. Vickers approached from the east while guards and Mounties, who had since entered the building, were following Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau from the south. At least some feared he had a bomb strapped to him, "because the rest of the plan otherwise didn't make sense," one guard said.

Mr. Vickers, meanwhile, braced himself on the opposite side of the same pillar. He had been in a meeting with another parliamentary security official at the time, sources say. Mr. Vickers had a gun but no armour, while his colleague had armour but no gun.

It's the next moments that are murky, with competing narratives.

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House of Commons sources say many of their guards shot Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau that day, both before and during the final showdown, including Mr. Vickers, who is said to have slid on his back to fire at the gunman. "It was our guys, and Vickers," but not RCMP who finally brought him down, one House of Commons guard said. Another House of Commons source stressed Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was dead as Mounties who had chased him inside arrived. But the RCMP Commissioner suggested it was RCMP who first returned fire in the final shootout, when asked specifically if it was "Sergeant-at-Arms Vickers who actually did shoot" Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau.

In an Oct. 23 news conference, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said "Mr. Vickers and others did engage" Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau outside the Library, with Mr. Vickers and Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau shooting at each other. "The suspect repositioned himself to get a better shot at Mr. Vickers, when our [RCMP] officers engaged, and you may have heard the sort of multitude of shots." Mr. Paulson went on to say that "Mr. Vickers did shoot," and was "engaged in that, as were some of his [House of Commons security] team members, as were some of my [RCMP] team members."

Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau is said by many sources to have been shot repeatedly in the final round of gunfire – "one might expect him to have a lot of holes in him," one source said, pointing to videos of the shootout, including from The Globe and Mail, where more than two dozen shots can be heard during 14 seconds. "You can draw your own conclusions from the number of shots" of how many hit Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, the source said.

The exact pattern of events could be revealed through autopsy reports and through a video of the showdown. But the autopsy could also prove inconclusive.

It "may not be possible" to determine which bullet killed him, according to one source familiar with the matter, given how many bullets ultimately struck Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau. The autopsy may, however, be able to say where Mr. Vickers' bullets landed if he used a different kind of gun. The gunfight was captured, meanwhile, by House of Commons cameras, footage that has been provided to police but not been released publicly.

A divide among responders

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From the minute Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was dead, tension has emerged between RCMP and House of Commons security.

House of Commons guards say they received late, and therefore misleading, information from Mounties, who told them a gunman was on his way to Centre Block from the National War Memorial after Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had already been killed. The warning, of course, referred to Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, but was not delivered in time, and left guards scrambling to lock down Centre Block for fear of a second approaching shooter, sources say.

To reach Centre Block, Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau made his way across the Parliament Hill grounds, hijacking a car before sprinting into the building. Those grounds are RCMP turf, and Mounties were unable to stop him. Once inside, he was under jurisdiction of House of Commons security.

A day after the shooting, RCMP held a press conference where they played video of Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau's approach to Parliament Hill. That Oct. 23 press conference left Mr. Vickers and others in the House of Commons upset – "aghast," one source said – because the videos revealed details of security measures, namely camera locations, on Parliament Hill. House of Commons security say RCMP, who failed to stop Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau's advance, allowing him to reach Centre Block, went "aggressively" public the next day to counter questions about whether their efforts fell short.

After the shooting, the OPP were called in to investigate how the RCMP responded. A week later, that was expanded to include a review of the response of House of Commons guards, led by Mr. Vickers. That OPP investigation, led by Detective Inspector Shawn Glassford, is ongoing.

Meanwhile, sources say Mr. Vickers is uneasy with the attention he's received, with several of his guards saying they believe he does not like being cast as a hero. He has declined interview requests. He has, though, spoken about the ordeal during the Israel trip, where at one point he was introduced as "the person who killed the terrorist." Mr. Vickers proceeded with the prearranged trip on the condition he not be asked about the shooting, sources say. He was asked anyway, and played down his own role. "I wish and hope you realize that it's about the entire team that performed very well on that day," he said in one video interview.

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Autopsies, probes and fallout

Centre Block emptied, finally, late the night of the 22nd, roughly 12 hours after the ordeal began and when a lockdown was lifted. Since then, changes have been made. All House of Commons guards will soon be armed, and eventually merged with Senate security. The Prime Minister's RCMP detail now more closely follows him in Centre Block, sources say. A Mountie now guards the doors Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau entered. Constable Son, the unarmed guard who confronted Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau inside those doors, was honoured in a ceremony this month and has not returned to duty. In CBC video taken outside the building in the minutes after the shooting, he can be seen limping and heard saying: "I'll survive."

Several investigations, meanwhile, have sprung up. Forensic pathologists conducted an autopsy on both Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau and Cpl. Cirillo. Ontario's chief forensic pathologist, Toronto-based Michael Pollanen, confirmed he will personally review each report and that they "are in progress." Those reports would then be used by other ongoing investigations.

Meanwhile, a coroner's report – different than an autopsy report – will be "very complete" and come after complex investigation, regional coroner Louise McNaughton-Filion said in an interview. Her office finished with Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau's body on Oct. 27. Other tests – including toxicology, which will offer a glimpse of what Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau had in his system – are ongoing for the final "narrative" report. "I would not be able to predict a timeline on that," she said.

The death of Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau raised a question of jurisdiction, as Parliament Hill is in some ways an independent entity. It was determined Ontario's system would handle the case. That means there are no guarantees, under Ontario rules, the coroner's report will be made public. In other jurisdictions, including nearby Quebec, such reports are typically released.

House of Commons security footage hasn't been released, and neither has a video manifesto recorded by Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau and recovered by police. Mr. Paulson, the RCMP Commissioner, had said the latter would be released, but later backtracked on that. He said perhaps only a partial transcript may instead be releasedbut that the RCMP continue to investigate what led to Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau's attack. RCMP have otherwise stayed largely silent since their Oct. 23 press conference, with Mr. Paulson saying this month they were "preserving evidence for some sort of court process if we need to," though it's unclear what that would be, given Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau is dead. "Nothing is being released at this time and, as the investigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment," an RCMP spokesman, Sergeant Greg Cox, said in an e-mail Friday.

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The House of Commons guards were honoured on Dec. 11 during a ceremony with MPs. "The response on Oct. 22 was certainly a team effort, as much a result of rigorous training and skilled leadership as it was the product of individual bravery and basic kindness," House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer said, paying tribute to guards. They had another honour earlier in the week, too. A group of the guards who had been there that day were taken to dinner by Conservative MP Joe Daniel. Asked about it, Mr. Daniel declined to go into specifics, saying only: "I think they deserved it."

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