In the Wake of the Ottawa Shooting

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Parliament Hill, August 2014

Parliament Hill, August 2014

No matter where you are in the world, you probably heard about Ottawa yesterday. Unfortunately, the national capital’s name was associated with an ugly word—“shooting.”

Mark, Feng and I were in the car, heading downtown, when we heard something on the radio about a lockdown, a gunman and a soldier shot. “Where? Here? In Ottawa?” I said incredulously. We turned the volume up and I grabbed my phone for the latest news.

At 9:52 a.m., a few minutes earlier, a member of the Canadian Forces guarding the War Memorial had been shot. Moments later, a man drove up to the Hill in a black Chrysler and entered Parliament armed with a hunting rifle. Soon after, shooting began in the Centre Block lobby.

This is where we were at. The downtown core was going into a lockdown, and people were advised to stay away from bus stops and windows. A manhunt was starting.

Obviously, we didn’t stop downtown and kept on driving East to Saint Laurent. Mark fell asleep in the car and we parked in front of a Chapters store. Our Starbucks cups in hand, we followed the news on my phone. Several friends of mine were downtown, stuck in the lockdown zone. Meanwhile, I was getting emails from abroad asking if we were okay.

We spent most of the early afternoon in Saint Laurent, we didn’t want to be stuck on the freeway as the lockdown area was expending and the police was still looking for two other possible shooters. The main suspect had been killed during the Centre Block shooting, and sadly the soldier shot was declared dead at the hospital.

It was very confusing and very surreal. The atmosphere was strange—a mix of shock, disbelief and fear.

All afternoon, most of the information was purely practical and factual: recommending people to avoid the downtown core, keeping public servants downtown in lockdown, reminding of road closures, public transportation being detoured and activities being cancelled.

We were almost forgetting to wonder “who”, and mostly “why”.

Canada is a fairly peaceful nation. Sure, we have occasional shootings, homicides, weird crimes making the headlines but like most Canadians like to say, “nothing like in the US”. This is not America-bashing, it’s just true. We have fewer firearms and fewer fatal shootings. Outbreaks of violence are rare. The members of the Canadian Forces stand guard in front of the War Memorial holding rifles that aren’t even loaded. Parliament Hill is open to everyone. All in all, Canada is a place where people get along well and without huge political issues. I do not support the current Conservative government but Canada generally has good foreign relations and a low likelihood of violent protests.

Parliament Hill, the home of the Parliament of Canada, is the heart of political power. An attack on Parliament Hill means a political attack—the target chosen is of political significance. “Terrorist motives”, said Harper later that night, as we learned the name of the main gunman killed by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms.

It is not clear whether there was more than one gunman involved in the attacks. At this stage, nothing is clear anyway. People are shocked, saddened, frightened.

Parliamentary security is under the spotlight. Despite being protected by different security forces, it remains a very open place. The grounds are open to the public, and anyone can enter the Centre Block easily as long as they go through a security screening similar to the one used in airport (bags screening, etc.). The Hill is often full of political leaders coming and going.

I’ve always liked it this way. As a tourist, I was amazed to see I could go inside an institution like Parliament Hill. As a Canadian, I value the free and unfettered access to the symbol of government.

Peace was shattered by gunfire, deaths, a manhunt, and a total lockdown.

There is something wrong here. I hope that instead of being scared, instead of blaming someone or something, we manage to find the root of the problem and address it, as a nation.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I first heard the news on radio, in France yesterday. It was ion the news all day long in Europe. I was shocked because nothing really happen in our quiet city. I used to hang out all the time at Rideau Centre between class esbreak or for lunch. My husband said we should have visited the parliament when we had the occasion, and now we suspect that it will no longer accessible for tourists for a while. I hope that le Parliament hill will not be like the one in London, where you have to go through high security check (like in airports) before entering. The sad part is that both incidents (St-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa) were caused byf 2 “mentally unstable” Canadians.

    • I hope so too, I really like the fact Parliament Hill is so open. Like you, this is a place where I go several times a week, like the Rideau Centre, so I felt lucky I wasn’t there that day.

  2. When I first heard about the shooting I thought about you and your family. You are my friend in Ottawa. I posted the cartoon from the Halifax paper on my Facebook page gwbillmiller . I share in your grief and indignation. Canada is our close neighbor and good friend. The world is a crazy place.

  3. Martin Penwald on

    Stupids exists everywhere. Even if I don’t like Harper’s politics, I don’t think that it is the cause of the shooting.
    I am not sure that there are that much guns (by inhabitant) in Canada than in US, but mentality is very different than the one in US. « Bowling for Columbine » from Mickael Moore was very interesting on the subject.
    However, a relatively disturbing (and disgusting) though : when Justin Bourque killed 3 RCMP officers in N.B, I don’t remember earing the word « terrorism » from Harper. Why does the idea pops in this almost similar case ?

    • Apparently, French news immediately mentioned “terrorism”, while Canadians news don’t really call it like that. I’m not sure this is terrorism actually… but how do you define it? Not sure either.

      • Martin Penwald on

        French media are not a reference for me.
        My point is that the shooter is allegedly muslim, and the act has been called almost immediately (by Harper, and this is worst than by media) terrorism. When the shooter is not muslim, it is not terrorism : I find the political bias despicable.
        (Unless Harper had said that the killing of Moncton was terrorism, but I don’t find anything going this way).

        The ridiculous part is when government claims it will not be intimidated and in the same time asks the military not to wear their uniform. Mmmmmh … in which part aren’t you intimidated ? That is the exact definition, here.

        • We are on the same page 😉

          So far, I haven’t heard people reacting stupidly to the action of a stupid man. Phew. Okay, this may be because I refuse to read The Sun…

          There was an editorial a few days ago (in the Globe? Or the Ottawa Citizen? Can’t remember, I was at Starbucks reading left over newspapers…) by a soldier who wanted to keep on wearing his uniform because the alternative made no sense. They can’t just hide, right?

  4. So sad. I hope Canada will manage to solve this the Canadian way (or that I feel to be it), without getting overwhelmed by fear, distrust and/or hatred…

  5. It is just awful Zhu, the soldier was from Hamilton, so people here are feeling it very deeply. That poor guy. I agree that why is the question.

  6. Hi Juliette,

    Even though we don’t know each other, as I heard the breaking news make the opening of the France 2 journal yesterday, I have been wondering all day long whether you were going to write about it… Your great blog has been a daily read for years – we are a little family planning to settle in Canada soon – and am sooooo sorry for what happened.

    Nowhere in the www is a description of Ottawa so vibrant and appealing, and now I have to pinch myself to know whether I am dreaming (it is 4:01 AM in here). My reaction (amongst shock and awe) was the same: how come, this is not America! I’ve never felt as safe in my life as during my regular trips to Canada, and that is why we became PR in the first place.

    The feeling of deja vu is really disheartening, but I do hope you guys are okay during those terrible moments… Keep faith in this peaceful, admirable country. Keep making those lovely pictures of the city.I hope the nightmare will be over soon.
    We’re sending a shipful of love, hugs and kiss to your little family and you.


    • Hi Amy,

      Thank you for your very sweet message (and I can’t help blushing at the thought of silent readers like you who enjoy my little articles!). It’s a weird atmosphere in Ottawa, everybody is shocked which is, I think a healthy reaction to a very violent and very unusual event. Canadians are peaceful people. They won’t blame the action of a single disturbed person on an entire community, and they will see through anger and sadness.

  7. Another strike against Ottawa. Yet again. It makes me so sad that Ottawa is not only disliked by many people but notorious now.

    To be honest, I do feel that Canada is very safe as a country, but I have to say, I’m surprised that this did not happen sooner. Every time I go to the Hill, I marvel at how open it is and I would wonder how long that could last.

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