As the world was made aware yesterday, Canada had a terror event in the capital. I work about 4 blocks from the event, and our building was in lockdown until 8pm. Suffice it to say that it was a rough day. I tweeted my issues with the media reporting on theories rather than facts and the least offensive was CBC, who oddly enough is a government sponsored news channel. I had to turn off the news/radio later in the day, when things had calmed down a bit, because of the insane political/religious rhetoric. The focus should be on Cpl Cirillo‘s death and the actions of the Parliament security to disrupt the final event.
Even though I was at work, I can assure you my thoughts were pressing in other matters. As per security protocol, wireless calls were blocked, so there were quite a few worried folk around here. Twitter was faster than the news as there were hundreds of people on site. Heck, even some reporters were posting pictures of emergency services (EMS) on Twitter, which is to my knowledge, a criminal offense. Aside from the Boston Bombing, which was an instant event (though it did include a manhunt), this is a rather unique use of Twitter and other social media to manage in an emergency. EMS can’t say too much because the public is posting all sorts of stuff that the bad guys have access to. When you’re hunting a person down you don’t advertise that you’re hunting in X spot right?
To further complicate things are the multiple jurisdictions at play. The Ottawa City police are for the core streets. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are responsible for the grounds of our Parliament. Behind Parliament is a river that separates Ontario and Quebec (provinces), which have their own provincial police. Finally, inside Parliament, the Sargeant-at-Arms is responsible for the security of members of Parliament. I think the count was around 7 on-site police forces that needed to talk. This is excluding the military or national security advisors and 3 levels of government officials (national, provincial and municipal – city hall is 2 blocks down from Parliament). They have admitted they were caught off guard, so I’d expect some change in protocol for any potential future event.
Before the Event
Canada is an interesting country, where we strongly value privacy and freedom. In fact, it’s something (maybe one of the only things) that the left and right agree on. We don’t have a TSA. We don’t have warrantless wiretaps. We have rather strong privacy commissioners (who actually changed the way Facebook works for everyone). It’s a free an open society where people can espouse their thoughts, but always tempered with a cordial respect. The real nutjobs are mostly ignored to their tiny corner – Sun News is a really good example of this. There’s just a general level of tolerance, though it is challenging at times.
Before the event, I could walk up to Parliament and touch the building. I could watch caucus leave. I could even shake the PM’s hand if he was in office. I could take a tour of the offices, visit the house of commons and actually see the inner workings of my country’s governance. Security was evident but it wasn’t intrusive. I didn’t have to wait in line to wait in line again. Our security heads had advised that could prevent most but not all attacks. Any additional money spent would be exponential compared to the actual security it provided.
After the Event
I am personally not any more fearful. I am certainly confused and angry that such an event could occur. I am upset that a Canadian-born citizen because so disenfranchised with our country that they sought refuge in extremist thought. That isn’t a security failure, it’s a social one. It’s going to require some internal review about how we can become more unified and accepting, rather than push more people out.
I am happy with the overall response of Canadians to this tragic event. While there are certainly the fringes that want to close borders and declare war on a sect of a religion, the general masses understand that these actions are so far removed from core values that we should protect those who are different. Our police and security forces have already tended support branches to our religious and cultural communities in case they feel threatened from retribution. It’s telling that the country, rather than focus their pain on some large change, we took the time to just get closer and invite more people to the hug.
Let’s be honest though, there will be some changes. Our Prime Minster’s speech did cause some concern around the wording around more security:
In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats, and keep Canada safe here at home – LINK
This isn’t 9/11. This isn’t the Boston Bombing, or the London Tube Bombs. One military target, some potential political ones. There were no bystanders here. Any re-action should be of even keel compared to the action taken, as any swing in direction is always returned with a re-balancing swing later on. I am not willing to give up my privacy and freedom to prevent a similar attack because I don’t believe today that it would actually have made a difference. I am anxious to understand further details however, so see what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it. Now is far from the time of action, it’s the time for investigation, evaluation and a measured response.
Ottawa is a good and strong city. Canada is a great country. It is great because of it’s values and ethics. By all reports, Cpl Cirillo was a model citizen and it’s a tragedy to have lost him, and I do mourn for his family. He paid a price for the freedom we enjoy and we need to pay respect to that act. I truly believe that this event will make us stronger as a country, working together for a better tomorrow.