Huricane Juan
Toronto Star
  • Terrorism rocks Ottawa

    OTTAWA — The heart of Canada’s democracy came under attack Wednesday in a brazen shooting that left a soldier dead, a parliamentary security guard wounded, and Canadians reeling at images of violence in the national capital.

    In an unprecedented morning assault, a single gunman fired on a ceremonial soldier standing guard at the National War Memorial before storming onto Parliament Hill, where he burst through the main doors of Centre Block, ran past rooms where NDP and Conservative MPs, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, were meeting.

    Behind him in chase was a cluster of security officials and police officers, their guns drawn.

    A volley of shots rang out, with Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a long-time veteran of the RCMP, reportedly shooting the gunman, later identified by a Canadian security source as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

    At the National War Memorial, bystanders tried frantically to save the life of the young soldier who had stood ceremonial guard next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist from Hamilton, would later die of his wounds.

    A scenic fall day turned into chaos, confusion and fear shortly before 10 a.m..

    One Ottawa resident watched as a short-man with shoulder length hair got out of a car parked near the war memorial, pulled out what appeared to a bunch of blankets or rolled-up sleeping bag and ran to the monument.

    A few moments later, she saw the man coming back to the car. “And I see that he’s carrying a shiny object that, from afar, looked like a pipe, like a silvery-coloured pipe, which I now know was a long gun,” she said.

    Other witnesses say Cirillo was shot at point-blank range.

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had been evacuated from Parliament Hill, branded the assault a “terrorist” attack. Top security officials were also on the Hill, including the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, along with the deputy ministers of justice and defence.

    In a televised address to the nation Wednesday evening, Harper’s voice shook as he paid tribute to Cirillo, slain at a “sacred place that pays tribute to those who gave their lives so that we can live in a free, democratic and safe society.”

    He extended condolences as well to the family of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent “who was killed earlier this week by an ISIL-inspired terrorist.”

    “But let there be no misunderstanding, we will not be intimidated. Canada will not be intimidated,” Harper said.

    Harper had been whisked off the Hill by his protective detail and later huddled with Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney for a cabinet meeting.

    Three other patients were taken to the Ottawa Hospital’s Civic campus for “minor, non-life threatening injuries” and were later released, including a Parliament Hill security guard who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg.

    At an afternoon news conference, police officers did not say whether they were still hunting for other suspects though the city’s downtown core remained on lockdown. Nor would they confirm whether the man shot by police on Parliament Hill was the gunman suspected of shooting the soldier.

    Calls to 911 about the War Memorial shooting began to pour into the Ottawa police at 9:52 a.m.

    Construction worker Scott Walsh was working near East Block when he heard one or two loud bangs and spotted a man running in his direction. He was wearing a white scarf and carrying a double-barrel shotgun though the firearm didn’t register at first until a colleague screamed, “he has a gun, get down.”

    “I saw people running and screaming. There was a man running. He had a scarf over his face. He ran up by East Block and hijacked a car at gunpoint. He didn’t harm the man inside and then made his way up around the loop in front of Centre Block.

    Alain Merizier, a waiter in the Parliamentary Restaurant, was at the main entrance of Centre Block when the shooter arrived.

    “He arrived quickly in a black car, right near the main door. I saw a young man, with a beard, and a hunting rifle, he shouldered it and he rushed quickly into Parliament and I heard a shot.”

    “He had long hair, he looked in his 30s . . . I saw the police arrive and the Commons security advancing.”

    A shaken Marc-Andre Viau, spokesperson for the NDP, saw the suspect run into the main doors of Centre Block, chased by a Mountie. Soon after he heard a volley of shots inside.

    “As soon as the police officer walked in, there were a lot of shots, multiple shots fired. There was a pause then I heard another round of shots,” Viau said.

    Inside the building, it was caucus day. Party leaders met with MPs and senior staff behind closed doors.

    New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said he and his colleagues heard several rounds of heavy gunfire just outside the door of their meeting room.

    Angus said MPs and staffers tried to barricade the door with tables and lay down on the floor as they heard what he said was at least two rounds of gunshots followed by another few shots.

    “People put up furniture. We put tables against the door. We lay down. You’ve never been through this before. You don’t know what the routine is other than what you have seen in the movies, so we didn’t know if someone was going to be able to try and get in,” Angus said.

    Across the hall, Conservative MPs were dong the same, as shown by a picture taken by MP Nina Grewal, showing a stack of chairs stacked against a door.

    Some MPs were evacuated to safety through the tunnels that led to adjacent buildings as well as to the rear of centre block. That’s where Liberal MP John McKay took cover with others behind a monument. He had just arrived for the Liberal caucus in a basement meeting room when he heard gunfire.

    Other MPs, including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, remained locked in Parliament Hill, into the evening after being warned to barricade their doors and not to open them under any circumstances.

    It was a stunning assault on a day when the Conservative government had planned to introduce expanded anti-terrorism powers for Canada’s national security agencies. It came on the heels of Monday’s shocking attack in Quebec where a self-radicalized man, identified as a high-risk traveller by the RCMP, ran down two Canadian soldiers at a strip mall, killing one and injuring the other. Couture-Rouleau, too, was shot and killed by police after a high-speed chase.

    RCMP assistant commissioner Gilles Michaud, the commanding officer of all RCMP forces in and around Parliament Hill, including the prime minister’s protective detail, said it was too early to say if there had been any warning, but admitted: “I think that from our reaction it caught us by surprise.”

    “It’s in our responsibility to protect the public;” Michaud told reporters. “If we would have known this was coming we would have been able to protect the public.”

    Michaud said RCMP had been operating at the “medium threat level for the past number of years, and that is the threat level we are operating at now.”

    A report of a third shooting near the Rideau Centre shopping mall in downtown Ottawa was later discounted by police.

    With files from Tim Harper, Tim Alamenciak and Olivia Carville

  • Alleged gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau had long list of run-ins with the law

    Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the 32-year-old Canadian identified as the shooter by Canadian security source, has had run-ins with the law from B.C. to Quebec dating back to 2001, according to court records obtained by the Star.

    Zehaf-Bibeau?s Quebec criminal record includes 11 charges.

    In a one-month period between Nov. 20 and Dec. 15, 2001, he received an absolute discharge for credit card fraud in Montreal and fines for drunk driving in Mont-Tremblant and assault in Laval.

    In March 2003, he was sentenced to three months in prison for theft and another six months for possession of a dangerous weapon in Saint-Jérôme, north of Montreal. In 2004, he received another brief jail term to escaping custody twice and possession of marijuana and PCP. In mid 2005 and again in 2006, he was charged with marijuana possession in Montreal, for which he received first a small fine and, on the second occasion, another absolute discharge.


    ? Security officials troubled by Islamic State?s call for domestic attacks

    ? Toronto man holds vigil honouring slain soldiers

    ? Sergeant-at-arms who shot gunman hailed as hero

    ? Killings of two soldiers raise troubling questions: Siddiqui

    Harper says Canada ?will not be intimidated?

    After Zehaf-Bibeau was identified, a picture purportedly of the shooter began to circulate on the Internet after an ISIS Twitter account posted it. In it, a man with long, dark hair and wearing a scarf around the lower half of his face is holding a primitive-looking long rifle. The Star could not verify if this was Zehaf-Bibeau and the Twitter account was later suspended.

    NDP press secretary Greta Levy, who was just outside Centre Block when the shooting broke out, emerged from her witness interview with the RCMP Wednesday night and, during a phone interview with the Star, saw the picture of the scarfed man. Levy said the man in the photo looks ?just like? the man she saw holding a long gun from the hip with both hands, about to walk in the building.

    Construction worker Scott Walsh, who was laying fibre-optic cable on Parliament Hill, told the Star?s Tonda MacCharles that shortly after the first shooting at the war memorial, a man with scarf over his face ?ran up by East Block and hijacked a car at gunpoint. He didn?t harm the man inside and then made his way around towards the construction and that?s the last time I saw him.

    ?I hopped the fence and looked over to my right. And there was a man with a somewhat similar scarf, kind of tucked in and covering a bit of his mouth, and while everyone else was freaking out and running away, he was just leaning up against the fence with his hands in his pocket.?

    Radio-Canada reported that the gunman?s parents were Susan Bibeau, a senior official with the Immigration Refugee Board, and Bulgasem Zehaf, a Libyan immigrant who ran a Montreal cafe between 1994 and 2002.

    Quebec and federal business registration documents also show that a Bulgasem Zehaf from the Montreal suburb of Laval operated a downtown establishment, Cafe Bistro Tripol Inc. between 1994 and 2004. Residents at the Laval home Zehaf provided as his address in those records said they had lived there for a decade but knew nothing of the suspect in the Ottawa shooting or his family.

    LaPresse reported that Zehaf-Bibeau lived at several locations in Montreal and in Outaouais, including Aylmer, Que. His last known address was in Vancouver.

    B.C. court documents show Zehaf-Bibeau was arrested in 2011 in Vancouver and in custody after being charged with robbery and uttering threats. It?s not clear what happened to those charges.

    With files from Michelle Shephard

  • Soldier slain at War Memorial remembered as ?compassionate?

    In a photo snapped just four days ago, two soldiers stand tall and proud, left arms at their sides, right hands grasping the barrels of their rifles.

    Against the backdrop of Parliament, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Cpl. Branden Stevenson stand guard over the National War Memorial — a task deemed an honour, not a duty, for those serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.


    Security officials troubled by Islamic State’s call for domestic attacks

    Toronto man holds vigil honouring slain soldiers

    Sergeant-at-arms who shot gunman hailed as hero

    Killings of two soldiers raise troubling questions: Siddiqui

    Harper says Canada ‘will not be intimidated’

    On Wednesday morning, the two soldiers, who were also best friends, returned to their post, flanking the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As is customary, their rifles were ceremonial and not loaded.

    On this day, one would live and one would die.

    Shortly before 10 a.m., gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau approached the memorial and shot Cirillo point-blank. Civilians in the vicinity desperately began CPR before paramedics arrived and rushed Cirillo to hospital, where he died. He was 24.

    Cpl. Stevenson, remarkably, escaped unscathed.

    In the hours following, Cirillo’s comrades and friends and his social media postings painted a picture of a devoted father, a dog lover and a loyal and proud member of Hamilton’s Argylls regiment: the 91st Canadian Highlanders.

    Cirillo called his fellow soldiers “brothers,” his young son “little man” and his dog “baby girl.”

    His last online posting was on Monday: a photo showing him and Stevenson in their regimental kilts, tasselled sporrans and polished black boots, smiling at the camera. His comment reads: “Just another day at work.”

    By Wednesday evening, this photo had attracted nearly 2,000 comments, many hailing Cirillo, who was from Hamilton and joined the cadets when he was 13, as a national hero.

    Teri Whittemore, a friend for the past three years, told the Star that Cirillo had been proud of his work and “loved being in the military.” Cirillo, she said, decorated his bedroom walls with military paraphernalia.

    She recalled Cirillo recounting how he was “grazed in the neck” by a bullet during a training exercise.

    “He played it off like nothing,” Whittemore said. “He would always tell me how much fun he was having and how he was so happy he was in the military and couldn’t have asked for a better job.”

    She said she had never seen a person love another person so much like Cirillo did his little boy.

    A photo posted by Cirillo in September shows his son smiling and holding up a sign that reads: “My first day in Senior Kindergarten.”

    “He was the most fun, goofiest and compassionate guy I’ve ever met,” Whittemore said.

    Cousin David Cirillo expressed his grief on Facebook: “To the gun man that shot my cousin point blank in front of the parliament hill this morning for no reason!! You will get what’s coming to you. You destroyed my whole family for life.”

    Hours after Cirillo’s identity was revealed, strangers took to social media in an outpouring of grief and anger over the shocking death.

    Richard Halsall, on a page created to honour the fallen soldier, said Cirillo was the first friend he made when he joined the military.

    “We stood next to one another the night we were sworn into the Argylls. He was a great dad who always busted his a—for his lil man. Truly lost too soon,” Halsall wrote.

    Friend Olivia Mancini recalled playing hide-and-seek with Cirillo and his son.

    “He was so excited to pop out and scare you. It was actually so adorable. All we have are memories now, but at least they were amazing ones,” Mancini wrote.

    Reached by the Star, James Stevenson, father of Cpl. Stevenson, said the shooting has been “very traumatic” for his son.

    “Nathan was a very, very big part of my son’s life and he’ll be dearly missed by my son and everybody in their unit,” he said Wednesday night. “It’s a terrible thing that happened.”

    Stevenson said his son would be returning to Hamilton soon.

    Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina said he had a “very tearful and emotional” visit to Cirillo’s family home Wednesday afternoon.

    “For me, it was experiencing a family that obviously loved Nathan — loved their son, loved their brother — that are completely shocked, as I still am,” Bratina said, noting the home is decorated with pictures of Nathan and his two sisters. “These are ordinary folks in an extraordinary situation trying to cope.”

    MP Wayne Marston (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) said he witnessed people performing CPR on Cirillo after escaping the Parliament buildings when shots began ringing out there.

    “All I saw was the boot,” Marston said, adding he instantly recognized the Argyll regalia. “Your heart just sinks when these things happen.”

    “The man was given a very important honour within the military, guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tragedy of course is the rifle would (have) no ammunition, and the coward walked up to him and shot him . . . It is tragic.”

    With files from the Hamilton Spectator, Alex Boutilier, Joel Eastwood and Manisha Krishnan

Arts & Letters
Sunday, 12 August 2007