When I was 18, I moved to Ottawa to begin my undergraduate studies. A couple of weeks into the semester I met an attractive fellow student unlike any woman I’d met before. I wasted little time in asking her out.
And so, on a crisp late-September evening, we took a walk around downtown Ottawa, ending up at the base of the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill just after midnight. We laid on our backs and talked about life, school, travel, and everything else you can imagine two naive, idealistic undergrads might discuss on a first date. Aside from feeling very drawn to my female companion, in that moment I also recall feeling very glad and proud to be Canadian.
It was 2006. The terrorist attacks of September 11 occurred only five years previous, and the climate of tension, and hyper-security, had not quite pervaded the 49th parallel. Anyone who visited both Ottawa and Washington in those years could confirm that the contrast between the security at the U.S. House of Representatives, and Parliament Hill, was stark.
That night on the steps of the Peace Tower I looked around and saw a couple of sleepy-looking cops on the outer edges of the lawn, and no one else. For the moment, it felt like The Hill belonged to my date and me. We were both grateful for it.
I began thinking about that night last Wednesday when my Twitter feed informed me that Parliament was under siege.
As a Canadian, it’s embarrassing and horrifying that some zero with a gun managed to penetrate the innermost corridors of the federal government before he was gunned down. These events require a thorough governmental inquiry to ensure, insofar as possible, that this situation is never repeated. Furthermore, the tragic and enraging deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo should prompt us to reconsider the security of all of our significant national landmarks.
But even in this moment of intense national sorrow and anger, we must remember that the accessibility of Parliament Hill to the general public is crucial to our national identity, and must be preserved at any cost.
It feels good to be able to take a walk around the grounds of Parliament at a moment’s notice. It feels good to be able to do yoga a few metres away from the heartbeat of Canadian politics. It’s essential to our democracy to be able to gather, protest, and call attention to issues of national significance when the moment calls for it. It’s essential to our identity as Canadians to feel like our governmental representatives are approachable, accessible, and not cordoned-off from the general public like in so many other countries.
Our politicians, their staff, our soldiers, and every Canadian citizen deserves the full protection of the federal government. They deserve to go to work and feel safe, just like every other Canadian, and their security must never be compromised. Still, I hope that we Canadians don’t “lose” our access to Parliament Hill as a result of one man’s shaky mental health, and inner turmoil.
In the wake of last week’s tragedy, and the emotional fallout of those events, I hope that our federal lawmakers and security personnel will remember that the sense of national celebration, community, and protest on Parliament Hill is far too precious to surrender in the name of “fighting terror.”
However we proceed in ensuring the safety of Parliament staff in the future, no security measure is worth forfeiting our liberty to approach our houses of government with the inherent dignity of Canadian citizenship.