OTTAWA - The RCMP has asked the Ontario Provincial Police to lead an independent probe into Wednesday’s attack on Parliament, during which police and parliamentary security staff shot and killed a gunman who stormed the government buildings, The Star has learned.
According to sources with knowledge of the request, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which gathered evidence immediately after the attack, is seeking an independent third-party investigation of events inside and outside Parliament in which several of its officers were involved in the massive show of force that killed the gunman.
Mounties joined parliamentary security staff in the dramatic chase through Centre Block before Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who minutes earlier fatally shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the nearby National War Memorial, was himself brought down in a hail of bullets.
The independent probe comes on top of a sweeping security review already ordered by Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer. Sources say it will be led by a credible, respected individual independent of the agencies and institutions involved.
The Toronto Star has also learned that Wednesday’s attack, which unfolded while Prime Minister Stephen Harper was meeting with his MPs in a nearby room, has sparked an immediate — and significant — overhaul in security operations on Parliament Hill.
Starting Monday, new procedures will take effect as Commons and Senate security officers work together in ways never before seen: a co-operation forced upon them by the unprecedented attack.
Several sources say security operations — traditionally delegated between four agencies with overlapping jurisdictions — will shift to an integrated model with Commons and Senate forces sharing duties and holding joint management meetings.
The two forces responsible for security inside the buildings will remain separate — they will continue to answer to the speakers of the Commons and the Senate respectively — but the personnel will be more integrated than before. Armed plainclothes officers on the Commons side, for example, will help staff the Senate side, where guards are unarmed. And Senate security guards will join the blue-uniformed, unarmed Commons guards on the floor on that side of Centre Block.
While these changes will not amount to the creation of a unified agency, the various personnel on security duty will start looking and acting like one.
As well, armed RCMP officers will remain at the entrances of all buildings in the parliamentary precinct, Scheer said in a statement Friday night.
Armed RCMP bodyguards, who normally only have jurisdiction to guard the prime minister when he is outside the building, will now accompany him wherever he goes, inside and out, as announced Thursday by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson.
Besides claiming Cpl. Cirillo’s life, Zehaf-Bibeau’s brief assault left Commons security guard Samearn Son wounded and ended only when Zehaf-Bibeau died in a volley of shots led by Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, joined by armed Commons and RCMP officers, who had chased Zehaf-Bibeau down the Hall of Honour.
The changes to take effect Monday are a shift in posture and ability: the Senate side has never had armed guards. But Wednesday’s tragic attack has highlighted the difficult balance between what some say are greater risks and vulnerabilities for the public and politicians on Parliament Hill and the desire to keep access to Canada’s national legislature open to the public.
After protesters scaled the exterior of the Parliament buildings in December, 2009, the security services agreed on new procedures meant to streamline their response to incidents on Parliament Hill.
But a report by the auditor general in 2012 warned that the “jurisdictional issue has not been resolved.”
The report noted how responsibility for security on the Hill is divided between Senate security staff (which oversees the east portions of Centre Block and East Block), House of Commons security (which handles the western portion of Centre Block and other buildings in the parliamentary precinct) and the RCMP (which handles policing on the grounds).
“A next step could be to unify the security forces for Parliament Hill under a single point of command, making it possible to respond to situations more efficiently and effectively,” the report noted.
A unified force could provide “consistent capacity and response across the precinct,” the report said.
Meanwhile, some of the tight restrictions that had barred the public from the heart of government in the days after the attack are being relaxed. The grounds of Parliament Hill have reopened to the public, and on Monday tours of Parliament and access to the galleries will resume.