canadian federal government, government of canada, senate, canadian newspapers online, canadian senate, canada, politics - Linking Canada and Ireland - Linking Canada and Ireland

Security within Parliament Porous and Ineffective

Yet another intruder infiltrated Parliament Buildings in Ottawa scarcely a year after expanded security measures were announced by the Board of Internal Economy following the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

This time the "gentleman" involved (yes, that is how he was described) made his way undetected into the Centre Block's old Reading Room, filled with dignitaries present "by invitation only" at the unveiling of the official portrait of the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney, who was Prime Minister of Canada for the nine years 1983 to 1992. In attendance were Mr. Mulroney's family, and two other Canadian Prime Ministers, one former and one present, the Right Hon Joe Clark and the Right Hon Jean Chrétien.

The gentleman even got onto the dais on which Mr. Mulroney stood, passing by Mr. Chrétien in the process, without being apprehended. Televised pictures showed he was in his shirt sleeves and not wearing a jacket.

How was it allowed to happen?

Earlier he had sat in one of the open public galleries overlooking Members in the Chamber itself.

Realizing from personal experience the tragedy which could have taken place, I feel it incumbent to republish the following excerpts from an article which appeared on this web site in November 2001:

"As one whose service in the House of Commons spanned three disparate attempts to inflict death and destruction on its Members, staff, and people in the public galleries of the Commons Chamber, the publisher of expresses unqualified support for all necessary preventive measures consistent with open democracy.

Former parliamentary authorities balked at the one remaining step that should be taken to shield those whose duty requires their attendance in the Commons Chamber. It is time to consider once again the installation of what is generally termed bullet-proof glass panels in the Chamber itself. If done tastefully, their appearance would present no obstacle to the right of the public to see and to hear their representatives talking, debating, questioning, and acting like jackasses whenever the mood strikes them.

Such a measure was undertaken in the United States Congress during the presidency of Harry Truman, following a gun-firing terrorist attack. It is time a similar step be taken to protect Canada's parliamentarians."

The article gave details of the three incidents mentioned. For anyone interested it is accessible at Parliamentary Security.

Before some other gentleman intruder takes advantage of the porous and ineffective measures now in place, highly dependent as they are on mechanical screening and surveillance, and which were reportedly strengthened only last year, the caution is again advanced that:

"It is time to consider once again the installation of what is generally termed bullet-proof glass panels in the Chamber itself."

It may be of interest to note that there is quite a history of objects being thrown from the public and official Galleries on to the floor of the Commons Chamber. These were usually covered by an editorial notation in Hansard.

August 24, 1964, page 7177, as the Hon George Nowlan was speaking in the famous Flag debate:

"I support the proposal for a plebiscite because I believe. sir, in this matter-"

[Editor's Note: And an object having been thrown from the gallery:]

Mr. Nowlan: It's all right. I don't think it's his heart's blood; I think it's his brains.

Mr. Bigg: It will be a live bomb next.

May 14, 1966, page 5266, as the Hon J. R. Nicholson was replying to a question placed on the Order Paper by Mr. Frank Howard, about the Seafarers International Union:

"I presume that technically the hon. Member may be entitled to communications between other organizations."

[Editor's Note: At this point a loud explosion was heard in the chamber]

Later at page 5268 at the start of Oral Questions:


Right Hon J. G. Diefenbaker (Leader of the Opposition): Mr. Speaker, the reason for the conversation in the chamber is the current report that someone has just passed away in the precincts of the House of Commons. I suggest to the Prime Minister, and I do so in the desire the house should not be carrying on under these circumstances, that it might be worth considering that this house should adjourn.

Right Hon. L. B. Pearson (Prime Minister): It appears that there was a bomb explosion in the washroom at the end of the third floor and that a man has been killed. There has been a good deal of damage done to the washroom and a certain amount of confusion is natural. Perhaps my right hon. friend's suggestion should be adopted and the house could adjourn until four o'clock, when the situation will be cleared up and we can resume.

At 305 p.m. the sitting was suspended.

The house resumed at 4 p.m.

Mr. Frank Howard (Skeena): It may be early to ask for a report, but I wonder if the Solicitor General could report upon or comment about the events which happened just prior to the adjournment?

Hon. L. T. Pennell (Solicitor General): I have no statement to make at this time, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the R.C.M.P. and the Ottawa city police are co-operating in this.

February 12, 1985, page 2254, as Mr. Dan McKenzie was speaking on a Supply Motion:

"The Hon. Member said I used selective figures. I would like to have had at least an hour-"

[Editor's Note: And an object having been thrown from the gallery:]

Mr. Blaikie: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Hon. Member for Beaches (Mr. Young) has just been attacked from the Gallery. Have we got security around here or not?

An. Hon. Member: They have hustled him out.

Mr. McKenzie: That is somebody expressing-

Mr. Blaikie: If you think that is funny, Dan, you have another think coming.

Mr. Young: Shame on you, Dan.

June 1, 1987, page 6584, as Mr. Bill Blaike (Winnipeg-Bird's Hill) was making a statement on Environment Week:

"I call upon the Minister of the Environment (Mr. McMillan) to re-evaluate the Environmental Protection Act, the draft of which he has already put before the public and of which he intends to introduce a second draft this month. I call upon him to respond to the criticisms that have been made of the first draft.

"The Minister and the Government know-"

[Editor's Note: And a stranger having entered the Chamber, addressed the Chair, and been removed by Assistant Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms Leo Robitaille:]

Mr. Speaker: The Hon Member for Winnipeg-Birds Hill.

Mr. Blaikie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I did not mean to get everybody so excited.

This article has grown to greater length than originally planned but, upon reflection, the subject matter of parliamentary security is of ever growing importance in a climate of increasing terrorist threat, not to mention the early return to society of persons unfortunately suffering mental derangement.

The words of Mr. Bigg, "Next time it will be a bomb", carry a sombre warning that must be heeded. Non-reflective sheathed glass panels may provide an additional measure of security. The sheathing is manufactured in Ottawa where Parliament is situated.

The security of Members of Parliament, their staff, of officials, and of the public should be a matter of primary importance. There have been too many times when security has failed.

The November 2002 gentleman intruder was reported as saying on national television that he was surprised at how easily he could sneak into a room full of dignitaries, after first sitting in one of the public galleries overlooking the Commons Chamber. "Everything fell into place," he said.

One reason such events as those recorded above are lost in institutional memory is the fairly rapid turnover in membership of the House of Commons. It is calculated that one average a third of the membership disappears with each General Election.

In recent times officials too have appeared briefly and disappeared without trace. It is up to the present members of the House to ensure not only their own security but that of their successors for generations to come.


Home | About | Canadian Vindicator | Literature | Gallery | History