OTTAWA - RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says there's no evidence of a link between Parliament Hill gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau and Martin Couture-Rouleau, who ran down two Canadian soldiers in Quebec on Monday.
Paulson said in a news conference Thursday afternoon that Zehaf-Bibeau was met with gunfire from Commons security as he ran into the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, brandishing a 30-30, lever-action Winchester rifle.
He said security staff and Zehaf-Bibeau fired at each other while shielding themselves behind pillars.
Video shown at the news conference indicates there were Mounties close on the gunman's heels as he rushed up the stairs and into the building.
The videos show the suspect abandoning a car on Wellington St., in front of the Hill while passers-by run for cover.
The footage shows the gunman running up the drive, hijacking a cabinet minister's car and driving it a few dozen metres to the front door of Parliament.
Paulson said the security situation on Parliament Hill needs to re-evaluated.
Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau, also at the news conference, said the Hill remains vulnerable to both pedestrians and vehicles.
Paulson said Mounties Zehaf-Bibeau's email on the hard drive of someone who has charged with a terrorism offence. He didn’t elaborate on that.
The commissioner said the Mounties will now guard the prime minister around the clock, wherever he goes.
MPs have said Stephen Harper was with them but had no RCMP guard while they were holed up in a caucus room Wednesday as exchanges of gunfire echoed through the Centre Block. It took some time for the Mounties to arrive and hustle him away.
Paulson said that's going to change in the aftermath of the shootout on Parliament Hill.
Zehaf-Bibeau was not on the RCMP’s list of 90 or so individuals under criminal investigation as potential threats, Paulson confirmed.
That distinguishes him from Couture-Rouleau, who RCMP have said was on the list.
Zehaf-Bibeau was not formally identified as a “high-risk traveller” but had applied for a passport, a process that was ongoing. However, he hadn’t been issued one because authorities had raised questions about the application.
Security sources told the Star that while Zehaf-Bibeau’s name was known to Canada’s spy service, CSIS, he was not considered a high-priority case.
Erroneous reports Wednesday stated he was listed as one of Canada’s nearly 90 designated high-risk suspects who showed aspirations of travelling to fight abroad and had their passports seized. Couture-Rouleau, 25, who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in a hit-and-run in Quebec, was arrested at Montreal’s airport in July while on his way to Turkey and his passport taken.
Sources say Zehaf-Bibeau had tried to renew an expired passport and had been questioned — but his case had not been elevated to that of Couture-Rouleau.
Civil rights advocates had condemned the secretive process of targeting terrorism suspects and criteria for revoking passports when tougher measures were introduced this summer. But Couture-Rouleau’s case raises the question of whether or not it makes sense to revoke passports.
Jeff Yaworski, deputy operations director at CSIS, told a Senate committee Monday that there were concerns about monitoring those who are “radicalized to the point where they wanted to leave,” but then find themselves trapped and frustrated in Canada. And Canada is not the only country to be grappling with this issue.
The head of the RCMP, Bob Paulson, told Parliament two weeks ago that Canada had a watch list of 90 suspects, which includes those who have fought abroad and returned to Canada, and those who had expressed desire to leave. It is estimated more than 130 Canadians have left over the past year and a half to participate in terror activities abroad, with 80 of those having returned.
It is still unclear what motivated Zehaf-Bibeau in Wednesday’s assault that began when he drove to the National War Memorial, shot and killed a ceremonial guard, Cpl. Nicholas Cirillo, before storming Parliament Hill, where he shot and wounded a parliamentary security guard, Samearn Son.
He was finally stopped when he was fatally shot by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers. Vickers threw himself on the marbled floor and fired at least three times at the suspect, as other guards fired as well.
Members of Parliament gave Vickers a standing ovation during the emotional opening of the House of Commons on Thursday. Vickers acknowledged the support in a statement Wednesday.
“I am very touched by the attention directed at me following yesterday’s events. However, I have the support of a remarkable security team that is committed to ensuring the safety of Members, employees and visitors to the Hill.”
Vickers extended condolences to the family of the slain soldier and said he wouldn’t be able to make any further comment on “an ongoing investigation.”
Yet, the ease with which Zehaf-Bibeau’s breached the security on Parliament Hill raises serious questions. How could a gunman enter Parliament on foot, minutes after a shooting at the nearby War Memorial?
One federal source said “that’s the million dollar question.”
Zehaf-Bibeau’s was just metres from the Conservative caucus meeting room, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper was sitting, and the NDP caucus meeting, attended by Official Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair.
A Global TV cameraman Rob Kazemzadeh was at the main entrance foyer when Zehaf-Bibeau arrived, and recounted it to the Star’s Tim Harper Thursday as he stood at the same spot. “That door swings open, I thought it was a joke for a second and I saw this guy’s scarf and his long hair and I thought this guy’s serious, and the gun was clearly visible and he pointed it at the guard and he went ‘hey.’
“He walked up the stairs, he didn’t run.”
Kazemzadeh said the shooter was brandishing the long-barrelled gun as he entered the foyer of the Hall of Honour, right under the Peace Tower. “It was plain as day, this big gun and he was just taking his time.” Plain clothes guards approached and yelled at the cameraman to “get out, he’s got a gun,” at which point the cameraman left, hearing one gunshot as he was going down the stairwell.
A security source told the Star the gunman was running by the time he entered the Hall of Honour.
The wounded parliamentary guard, Son, who had served 10 years as a Commons guard, was shot in the leg. Son’s wife Nora said her husband has been released from hospital and is doing well.
“He's doing good, he's just resting and wanting some privacy right now,” she said.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement told the Star the memory of what unfolded is clear: “I can still hear the gunfire. The prime minister was speaking and we heard this rat-a-tat-tat and I thought it was some sheet metal coming down or something from the construction.
“But it kept coming and all you could hear were the shots and we thought at any second a group of terrorists was going to blast through that door.
“We didn’t know part of that rat-a-tat was coming from our guys.”
On Thursday, residents at a downtown homeless shelter said Zehaf-Bibeau had been staying there for about the past two weeks.
“He’d be kneeling on a towel in the stairway and you’d have to step around him,” said one man who only gave his name as Dave.
- With a file from Star staff and wire services