For those of you who are unaware, yesterday morning, just before 10 a.m, a Canadian soldier was shot and killed in Ottawa, while standing guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The soldier was Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a Hamilton reservist. I am not going to give a name to the shooter, partly because it’s already all over the news but, mostly, because I do not want to give a merciless killer the dignity of having a name, or a face. The shooter then proceeded to get into Center Block- the main parliamentary building here in Ottawa- before being shot down by the Sargeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers.
Almost immediately, the whole of downtown Ottawa went into lockdown. The police were unsure of whether or not there were more shooters, and did not want to risk anyone getting hurt. While all of this was happening, I was in the Justice Building, which you can see labelled in the photo below.
I was there with only another volunteer, both of us young and inexperienced in situations like this, and neither of us were fully aware of the situation until a few moments after the shooting at the War Memorial, due to us being slightly further away from the main parliamentary buildings. We heard it all on CBC, watched Peter Mansbridge in an odd mix of terror and fascination. We quickly received an email that we were going under lockdown, and were told to close and lock the door and to stay in our location until told otherwise by government security.
Myself and the other volunteer did our best to keep working, but it was nigh impossible, what with the TV blaring the entire time, the news pouring out at us like a tsunami of fear and confusion. We paced the office, talked in hushed tones despite there being no one else in the office, and generally just freaked out as quietly as possible. After almost three hours, government security came in, barked at us to stay away from the windows and keep the door shut at all costs. Then, they left. We were alone again.
We didn’t see any other guards for another 4 hours, when a very kind member of security told us that she had no idea when they were letting us out, only that they were starting to evacuated Caucus and that that “[was] something.” I was in the Justice Building for 11 hours, and didn’t get home until 9 o’clock at night, making my day a whopping 12 hours of fear, confusion, and that gnawing ache that settles in your chest that you can only express as, “I want to go home.”
Now, I know that I was not directly in the thick of it, but I was shaken (still am) and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my entire life. Both of my parents were in airports, unable to keep in contact with me, and my older brother (who lives ten minutes away from both my university and the Parliament buildings) was ready to drive through the police blockade to get me. My roommates, tucked up safe in our room, were texting me with questions like “are you alive?” Eventually, my phone neared death, so I turned to the computers in the office and took to Twitter and Facebook, communicating as best I could with the shoddy (and surely overused at the time) Internet in the building.
I have seen people comparing this to 9/11. I do not think that this has reached that scale, but people need to understand that Canada has never experience anything remotely like this. No one has ever tried to attack our Parliament buildings and no one (certainly not twice in one week) has killed our military officials in cold blood.
We are on edge. We are unsure. But, we are not giving up. Canada will remain the true North, strong and free. Canadians refused to be beaten down, to be made to tremble in our beds. We will feel safe on our own streets for the rest of time. As Stephen Harper (as conflicted as I am about whether or not I like him as a Prime Minister) said, “Canada is not intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”