October 22, 2014. The Day the Military Police Took Control of Parliament.
9:45 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 22. I have just finished a meeting in my office when I receive a text message from a former assistant living in New York asking if we’re ok. At the time, my assistant and I did not understand. Another text. We learn gunshots were heard around Parliament. I turn on the television. My assistants run to the Internet. Total shock. At the time, I hadn’t seen any official message or heard anything unusual. I look out the window: police cars with their lights flashing. Tourists have fled the Hill. I feel I’ve gone into another dimension.
10:00 a.m. We learn that a soldier was shot at the cenotaph across from Parliament. Then that an armed man is on the Hill…and then in Parliament! My staff and I lock the doors to our office and get information from the TV. I venture again to look through the window—that would be the last time: men with machine guns have taken up position behind a vehicle under my window. We see people’s shadows on the roof of the Langevin Block, opposite my office.
10:38 a.m. The first email arrives from the Senate Administration. It is in English only, which is unusual but no doubt because of the need to get information out as quickly as possible. We are asked to stay inside. 10:43 a.m. We get the same message, this time bilingual.
11:12 a.m. Another email. Security forces are scouring Parliament and the surrounding area. We are again told to stay inside.
12:00. No lunch. We stay in our offices. Rumors fly about. A second suspect may have entered the building. Noise echoes down the hallways.
On TV they’re talking about the soldier at the cenotaph. He might be dead. I think of his family. What madness!
1:41 p.m. An email informs us that tactical teams are securing every room in the building and that noise may be heard when doors are knocked in. We now know that a man was shot in the Centre Block. Security seems to have regained control. The tension eases a little.
At 2:30 p.m., to cries of “Police,” my assistant opens the office’s main door. He comes face to face with soldiers aiming their machine guns at him and ordering him to put his hands in the air. One by one, our doors are opened and the soldiers point their guns at my other assistants who exit their offices, hands in the air, as if they were criminals. After a quick inspection of the premises, we are taken under military escort to another location. We walk through deserted corridors to the offices of a Conservative MP. The soldiers seem nervous.
The door we go through is destroyed; glass has exploded all over the floor. The door across the hallway has also been knocked in. Glass litters the hallway. There are more than 50 people crammed into four offices, everyone talking to one another. I’m with another senator, a Conservative MP and numerous assistants, including a mother and her 2-year old baby. There are five or six chairs but 15 of us in the room.
It’s hot; I can’t breathe. Fortunately, there’s a water fountain. I ask the security guard, who is monitoring comings and goings and keeping us under guard, if we can open a window. The military police, who have clearly taken control of Parliament, say it’s OK.
I sit near the open window. I’m breathing but stunned: parliamentarians are under the command of the military. Parliament is in the hands of the armed forces.
I have a plane to catch at 5:30 p.m. to attend public committee hearings in Quebec City. My briefcase on wheels is at my feet, my jacket folded over it. I look forward to hearing when we can leave. Someone speaks out in the group, she is diabetic and in need of sugar. We reassure the diabetic women. She is not alone: there is a second diabetic in the room. There is also a man with an injury, a deep cut in his shoulder, he fell while running to safety. There are no first aid kits or medical supplies of any kind in the room and no effort is made to provide these items by the security personal. This irritates one of my staffers who used to work as a Lifeguard when he was student.
It seems that the wait will be long. The security guard confirms it will be several hours. A man smiles at me: this is my last day of work today, he says. I’m retired as of tonight, but I didn’t expect this sort of exit!
Every 15 minutes, a small group of 4 or 5 people are allowed out of the office under escort to go to the bathroom. Aside from a medical emergency, it is the only concession to our cramped haven.
5:36 p.m. An email informs us that evacuation measures have begun. There are rumors that the suspect acted alone.
I’ve missed my plane. I haven’t eaten since 6:30 a.m. We’ve been stuck in these offices for three hours. Around 6:00 p.m., however, we’re brought cookies, sandwiches, little buns, fruit and bottled water. Smiles all round. We wait again, though now not as hungry.
We watch for a sign that we’ll be let out. We’re told to be quiet. The security guard repeats the news he hears in his earpiece: the police are still looking for three suspects around Parliament. We must wait some more. Perhaps several hours. I sit back down. I’m exhausted. I think we might have to sleep here!
6:16 p.m. Last email from the Senate Administration. Congratulations and thanks to everyone. Can we finally get out? Still many unanswered questions. That one among others. The TV announces the Prime Minister is going to speak.
7:45 p.m. The Prime Minister makes his speech. English first. Then French. He hasn’t yet finished when I hear a call from the hallway: “Everybody’s out!”
But we can’t leave just yet. We’re taken to a large committee room, where there are tourists, parliamentarians and staff from the various Centre Block rooms. Apparently, some 700 people have been evacuated on OC Transpo buses, escorted by RCMP vehicles. I wait another 15 minutes in the room and then 10 minutes in the corridor with my fellow colleagues MPs and Senators only. I have to leave behind my staff! Officers take everyone’s name and address and ask if we saw anything.
It’s now past 8:00 p.m. I finally leave Parliament to board a bus. Destination: the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Lester B. Pearson Building, which is outside the security perimeter. We are told twice that Prime Minister Harper is there and will speak to us. However, the Prime Minister never addresses the Parliamentarians. MPs and Senators are taken into a room. Those who saw and/or heard something have to talk to an RCMP officer. Others can go.
I am free.
I call a friend to pick me up in her car on Sussex Drive.
Because I am on my way to Quebec City, I have everything with me—my luggage, my coat, my keys. But some of my colleagues didn’t have the time or the luck. Some don’t have their keys, or a way home. And they can’t go back to their office.
Around 10:15 p.m. I’m finally home. Exhausted and unhappy with how this crisis was managed. A crisis, yes. Not a terrorist act.