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Macleod MP says tragic events in Ottawa made country stronger

john barlow

Macleod MP John Barlow said Canada has emerged stronger from events Wednesday in which a Canadian soldier guarding a war memorial was shot and killed and the gunman came within metres of the Prime Minister and other leaders.
“This incident, and whatever this guy’s motive was, it’s brought us all closer together,” Barlow said in a telephone interview. “I know it’s not something I will get over soon, but it’s something that has strengthened us as a country and as a House of Commons.”
Wednesday started with a meeting of the Alberta caucus for about 90 minutes, and then shifted for the Conservative caucus meeting about 10 a.m. in Centre Block.
After that, MPs planned to get ready for Question Period in the afternoon.
“It was a pretty routine day,” Barlow said. “The schedule is pretty set.”
The routine was shattered when Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s address to the Conservative MPs and Senators was interrupted by two loud bangs.
Parliament Hill at present is something of a construction site with renovations of the West Block going on so loud, unexpected noises are not uncommon.
“Everybody was kind of startled but we thought something just fell,” Barlow said. “A few seconds later there was a succession of shots just outside the door so we knew there was something a lot more serious going on.”
Barlow doesn’t know how many shots were fired in that second burst but everyone in the room recognized the sound as gunfire.
All the MPs and Senators stood and some ran toward the doors.
“We have probably close to a dozen former police officers and military personnel who are in our caucus and they took control really quickly,” Barlow said.
The former military, RCMP and police service members got the MPs and Senators away from the doors and got barricades in place.
“The gunfire was going off, we knew it was close but we didn’t know if it was one guy, 10 guys or 20 guys,” Barlow said. “They kept everybody inside, because if they would have gone out that one door they would have been walking into the middle of the gunfire.”
“It was good that they reacted as well as they did. The training they had came right back to them and it was reassuring to have them in there.”
Once the barricades were in place the MPs and Senators guarded each doors and attempted by cell phone to find out what was going on.
Barlow said cell phone service was sporadic but he was able to send a text to his wife Louise to let her know he was okay.
It took 15 to 20 minutes before Barlow and others in the room found out what had happened.
“It was a little surreal, to be honest,” Barlow said.
Sergeant-At-Arms Kevin Vickers and other security people came into the room and let them know there was one shooter, who had been killed.
“That was a relief,” Barlow said.
It wasn’t until much later that Barlow and his fellow Conservatives learned that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo had been shot and killed while guarding the war memorial.
They also found out later that it was Vickers, a former RCMP officer, who shot and killed the gunman not far from where the Prime Minister, MPs and Senators were sheltered.
The MPs and Senators had to remain in the room for several hours while security personnel made sure Centre Block was secure.
“What we went through was nothing compared to the first responders, the Ottawa police, the RCMP, the Armed Forces, and the Parliamentary Hill security team,” Barlow said. “The sacrifice that Nathan Cirillo made is heartbreaking. These things are still going through my mind, what could have happened and what unfortunately did happen.”
MPs insisted that the House of Commons sit on Thursday in order to show their resolve in the face of what Harper called a terrorist attack.
Barlow said he was moved when Kevin Vickers came into the House of Commons and received a standing ovation from all Members of Parliament.
Barlow said it was also emotional to listen to the Prime Minister’s speech in the House, and to see Harper cross the floor and embrace New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
“I really think it brought all of us closer together,” Barlow said. “We may be opponents across the floor from one another but that day it showed we are all Canadians and we have to stand together.”
Barlow, who was back in the Macleod riding for meetings on the weekend, expects security will be tightened on Parliament Hill to ensure the personal safety of elected officials the public.
However, the Macleod MP is hopeful the “new normal” will not change the atmosphere that exists in the nation’s capital.
“What makes Parliament Hill so special for me is how welcoming it is and how inclusive it is,” Barlow said. “We want not only Canadians but people from all over the world to feel welcome when they come to Ottawa and Parliament Hill. I don’t want to lose that.”
Barlow said Canada is unique in the world in its approach to making the House of Commons accessible to the public, and he doesn’t want that to change.
“Our doors are literally open,” Barlow said. “We want people to be able to come there and share in what is the icon of Canadian democracy, freedom and culture and who we are as Canadians. It would be tragic if we felt we had to close our doors.”

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