Ottawa shooting: RCMP, House security radios on different frequencies

The radios used by RCMP officers and House of Commons security on Parliament Hill use different frequencies, possibly leading to delays in communication during emergencies.

Security officials on Parliament Hill, inside buildings can't use radios to communicate

A police officer secures the scene of the shooting on Parliament Hill on Oct. 22, 2014. A Canadian soldier standing guard at the nearby National War Memorial in Ottawa was shot minutes before the Hill shooting by a gunman. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Radios used by RCMP officers and House of Commons security on Parliament Hill use different frequencies, CBC News has learned, just one example of possible points of delay in communication during emergencies such as the one that played out during the shootings in Ottawa last week.

Concerns have been raised repeatedly over the years about the different silos in which law enforcement and security officials operate on and around Parliament Hill, including by Auditor General Michael Ferguson, who reported on them in 2012.

On Monday, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said security forces protecting Parliament must be better integrated.

"The silos we have today are not adequate. Security inside Parliament must be integrated with outside security forces," Blaney said in question period, less than a week after a gunman killed a soldier at the National War Memorial, ran onto the Hill to hijack a car, and was shot dead metres from the rooms where MPs were meeting.

The RCMP is responsible for security on the grounds of Parliament Hill, while the House of Commons and Senate each have separate protective services.

The House of Commons has its own security cameras inside the Centre Block that are monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the communications centre in the Confederation building, just west of Parliament Hill.

But surveillance cameras on the perimeter and outside areas of Parliament Hill are RCMP cameras and are monitored separately by the Mounties at another location.

The Senate and House command centres can monitor the RCMP radio frequency but would have to speak by phone to communicate directly, slowing down crucial communications during emergencies.

Separate security service may be necessary

Last week added an additional complication, with the Ottawa Police Service responsible for responding to the National War Memorial for the shooting death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

An RCMP intervention team secures an entrance to Parliament Hill on Oct. 22, 2014. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Even the RCMP officers assigned to Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to hand off responsibility to House security officials once they hit the door of Centre Block. That has now changed, with Harper getting round-the-clock RCMP protection; the RCMP stay with him constantly.

Uniformed RCMP officers also have to turn in their service weapons when they enter the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

It may not be possible for the RCMP to take over security on the Hill, however — parliamentary privilege dictates a separate police force for the buildings on the Hill because it exists in a legal netherworld. Parliament is its own separate and sovereign jurisdiction.​

The House of Commons referred to having to update its radio communications in a report on the strategic objectives for the current parliamentary session.

'Jurisdictional issue has not been resolved'

"The House administration will play a lead role in overseeing the planning, design and implementation of technology services and network and other telecommunication infrastructures, including the modernization of the integrated security system and the radio communication system," the report said.

Ferguson pointed out in a June, 2012 auditor general's report to House of Commons administration that one problem arose in 2009 when activists scaled the exterior of West Block.

"Subsequent analysis revealed that the House of Commons security services’ mandate covered the area inside buildings under its jurisdiction and the RCMP’s mandate covered the grounds, but no organization had a clear mandate for the roofs of the buildings," Ferguson wrote in his report.

Armed RCMP officers approach Centre Block on Parliament Hill following a shooting incident on Oct. 22, 2014. A Canadian soldier was shot at the Canadian War Memorial and a shooter was seen running towards the nearby Parliament buildings, where more shots were fired and he was eventually killed. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
"The Parliamentary precinct security partners have recently agreed on operational procedures for joint responses to future intrusions that occur within each other’s jurisdiction. However, the jurisdictional issue has not been resolved."

The question of who is responsible for the security of Parliamentary roofs also remained unresolved, he noted.

"The security partners have developed their co-ordination and communications through the Master Security Plan. A next step could be to unify the security forces for Parliament Hill under a single point of command, making it possible to respond to situations more efficiently and effectively."

The Board of Internal Economy, the committee of MPs that administers House budgets and related matters, formed a subcommittee a few months before Ferguson's report to deal with security in the parliamentary precinct.

It wouldn't comment yesterday on the issue of incompatible radio frequencies or on how Hill security might change in the wake of the shooting, saying, "for the safety and security of everyone on Parliament Hill, specific details about security practices and enhanced measures will not be shared."

Security on the Hill has been stepped up over the years, including closing off part of the stone wall that runs along Wellington Street and installing barriers to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the gunman killed after shooting Cirillo and attacking Parliament Hill, parked his car on Wellington just past the first blocked-off driveway. He ran onto the Hill and hijacked the car of a cabinet minister to continue to the main entrance to Centre Block, just under the Peace Tower.

With files from CBC's Margo McDiarmid


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