After attacks, Canada balances security, openness
Oct. 24, 2014
OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Canada treasures its image as an orderly, open society, a place where the seat of government welcomes weekly public yoga sessions on its front lawn beneath a monument called the Peace Tower.
That sensibility has been tested by two deadly attacks this week on symbols of the government, one of them at the Parliament building itself. The assaults, which the prime minister has described as terror attacks, left two soldiers dead in their homeland and exposed vulnerabilities in safeguarding the capital.
But as lawmakers acknowledge they need to reassess security, they stress maintaining an atmosphere of openness.
"I think we're going to have some tweaking and changes, but I think we're going to do this the Canadian way," Mark Eyking, a Liberal member of Parliament from Nova Scotia, said Friday.
Canada has debated how to balance homeland safety and freedoms before, perhaps most acutely when a radical Quebec separatist group kidnapped two government officials and killed one in 1970, prompting limits on civil liberties for a time. And Parliament Hill has been the target of violence before, including a 1966 bombing attempt and a 1989 standoff with a gunman who fired several shots from a hijacked bus.
Still, this week's attacks in Ottawa and Quebec have come as a shock and brought the threat of terror home.
"You say, 'This is what it feels like'" in other countries that have endured attacks, said Frank Szadkowski, an Ottawa engineer who on Friday stopped by the war memorial where a man shot and killed a soldier a day earlier. The gunman then stormed the Parliament building and died amid bursts of gunfire. Two days earlier, a man described as inspired by Islamic State militants ran down two soldiers in Quebec with his car, killing one, before police fatally shot him.
"At the best, it feels unsettling," said Szadkowski, whose 17-year-old son just start training to become a military reservist. "You don't want to overreact. You don't want to underreact."
That's the challenge facing Canada's leaders, and it already has prompted changes to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's security arrangements and spurred the military to order its members not to wear their uniforms while doing such things as shopping or dining out.
The country's Conservative leadership had already planned to propose expanding the Canadian intelligence agency's power to track terror suspects abroad. Justice Minister Peter MacKay said leaders now may consider increasing authorities' existing power to arrest terror suspects in Canada. Others have suggested existing measures could suffice.
Lawmakers across the political spectrum anticipate discussing changes to safeguarding the Parliament building, where many guards aren't armed and responsibility for protecting the building and surrounding area is split among four different security forces - an arrangement the country's auditor general called for streamlining two years ago. The building remained off-limits to the public Friday.
Still, legislators emphasize that they want the building to remain the "people's house," not the government's fortress.
"Most important, for us, is the right balance between security and freedom" for people to visit and see their lawmakers at work, said Maxime Bernier, a Conservative member of Parliament from Quebec.
The discussions in Canada echo debates that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the U.S., says Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor and national security expert. Sept. 11 prompted new anti-terrorism laws and vehicle restrictions at Parliament, but preserving Canadians' sense of their government and culture as accessible remained a priority.
"There is a really solid consensus in Canada that Canada cherishes its image, and reality, as a well-functioning, multicultural society with strong democratic institutions," Wark said.
Michel Adam prizes exactly that.
"As a people, as a society, as a nation, we are not afraid," said Adam, a government worker who immigrated from Senegal. He sees this week's attacks as a reminder to remain vigilant, but not a reason to change the country's approach to security at home or fighting terrorism abroad.
"We should never be afraid of demonstrating leadership and demonstrating Canadian values," he said.
If the attacks have left Karen McHarg fearing anything, it's any suggestion that people are anxious enough to warrant revisiting some liberties.
"Sadness doesn't equate to fear," the hospital clerk said, looking at a crowd gathered at a ceremony Friday at the war memorial. "People wouldn't be here if they were afraid."
Follow Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @ jennpeltz.