On October 22, 2014, downtown Ottawa came to a literal stop: roads were shut down, buildings were put under lockdown, and cops were placed on every corner. I won’t bother discussing the details of that morning, as I’m sure most Canadians are well aware. Instead, I wanted to offer the experience and insight that comes from such an ordeal. I’ve chosen not to mention my name, nor who I work for, as this is not a political piece, nor is it just my story, but it’s a story I’m sure I share with others here in Ottawa and across Canada.
I have a uniquely situated office on Parliament Hill. Though the front of the Centre Block building is blocked by the West Block building, I look out over the security entrance just behind West Block. I’ve enjoyed this view for the past year. I’ve watched all sorts of foreign dignitary envoys making their processions with trails of diplomatic vehicles and police, as well as the occasional tourist obliviously attempting to drive in, only to be stopped by whirling lights from all directions. On that eventful October morning though, as I sat with a stuffed nose and regretted coming into work instead of staying home sick, I encountered a new sight, one that could only spell trouble.
At 9:52am, every cop car in sight sped with an alarming speed up Parliament Hill to Centre Block with more quickly pouring through the security entrance. As I knew no good could come of this. I quickly pulled up Twitter and turned on CBC. Thirty seconds later, my Twitter exploded with news of gunshots at the National War Memorial. About another minute later, tweets about shots from inside Centre Block.
I sent a quick text to my roommate to see if he was following these events. He sent me a message back accusing me of playing a cruel joke on him. As Twitter continued to offer reports and speculations across the board, CBC got ready to report the facts. As the events continued to unfold, the adrenaline and the impact of what was happening set in. I was locked in my office for ten hours. Needless to say, no work got done that day.
I received countless calls and texts that day from people asking what had happened and ensuring I was safe. At this point, the police thought there was still a second and third shooter, so the threat continued to feel very real. There are many things I could say about the experience, and many aspects of the story to reflect on, but the one that stands out the strongest to me relates to fear. I received a handful of texts in the days that followed, not asking if I had been afraid while all of this was happening, but if I lived in fear now: if I was afraid to go to work the next day, walk the halls, run my hands over the bullet holes, sit in the committee room my boss was so recently locked in. The answer is, quite simply, no.
There are many who will argue that Members of Parliament are over-paid, or power hungry, or don’t work hard enough, but I have talked to more than enough MP’s to understand the sacrifice they make. They leave their families for five days a week to work sometimes 16 hours a day, many even taking a pay cut compared to their salary prior to public life. They do it because they view it as their service to Canada. I don’t want to appear as though I’m trying to make myself sound self-important, but I enjoy what I do because I am now part of the system that makes Canada what it is.
There are many jobs that make a difference in this great country and I have been truly blessed to find one which fits so well with my skill set. Beyond that, I truly believe that I am where I’m supposed to be in the bigger picture. So, when I’m asked if I’m afraid to go to work, I have to answer, why would I be afraid to go to the place I’m supposed to be? I, by no means, intend to belittle those who were afraid to walk those halls: many people who were directly in harm’s way now have constant reminders of their experience. I choose to walk through those halls with my head held high, not letting fear force me into the shadows.
I recall walking through those doors under the Peace Tower in the days that followed, truly believing that the Parliament buildings were the same symbol of freedom and democracy today that they have been for almost 150 years. I am not naïve to the fact that this may not be the last such attack, but, much to my mother’s dismay, that will not stop me from continuing to walk tall and doing the work I set out to do.
There are some who will say that Canada lost its innocence that day. I would argue otherwise. Ottawa has often been in its own bubble, often even personified as a singular decision-making entity. On that fateful October day, the Ottawa bubble popped, connecting with all Canadians, albeit through an unfortunate circumstance. I pray that together, as Canadians, we can continue to walk with our heads high, proud of the work we do in our various vocations to continue to make Canada the best it can be.