RCMP officers missed an opportunity to stop gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau before he entered Parliament because a radioed warning of his approach came out "garbled," RCMP Assistant-Commissioner Gilles Michaud said Wednesday after the release of four reports into the Oct. 22 attack.
The report on the RCMP's deployment on Parliament Hill, conducted by the Ontario Provincial Police, also cites a lack of "operational preparedness," including planning, training and resources.
While it does not lay individual blame, the report stresses the approach to security and protection on the Hill is "highly inadequate" and concludes the shooting was a "grim reminder that Canada is ill-prepared to prevent and respond to such attacks."
- Timeline: Zehaf-Bibeau's five minutes of terror: From Cirillo shooting to Centre Block firefight
- Ottawa gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was shot 31 times
- Face-to-face encounter ended the attack on Parliament
- Ottawa shooting confusion due to scale of police response
- Reconstructing the Centre Block shootout
Michaud took questions, along with House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer and Senate Speaker Leo Housakos, after the release of two OPP reports, an RCMP "after-action" internal review and a House of Commons summary on the response to the shooting. The OPP was called in by the RCMP to conduct the external review.
Michaud told reporters his officers had about 30 seconds to respond to Zehaf-Bibeau from the time he was first spotted on the Hill by an officer whose cruiser was parked not far from where the gunman hijacked a cabinet minister's car.
"At the time, our officer was trying to prevent a lady who was trying to get into the backseat of her car," he said.
The OPP report details that the woman, who had a baby carriage, was trying to seek shelter from the shooter in the cruiser.
Michaud said the video that day shows the rear door of the officer's cruiser wasn't even closed when she takes up pursuit of the hijacked vehicle. It also shows another RCMP cruiser coming down the driveway toward the vehicle, but making no attempt to block it.
Michaud said the first officer tried to alert her fellow officers via radio that Zehaf-Bibeau was headed toward Centre Block in a car but her message "came out all garbled."
That meant the officer at the top of the driveway "had no clue that the vehicle coming his way was the vehicle Zehaf-Bibeau was in. By the time he realized that was when he saw our other member chasing that car," he said.
"If that communication would have been clear that he was in the car, I think we would have had different action from our guy (at the top of the driveway) but those are all 'what if' type of situations," he said.
Michaud said that action could have included ramming the hijacked cabinet minister's car, which is a familiar vehicle on the hill and was therefore not seen as a threat.
"There's nobody, from our perspective, that is to blame for this and there's no discipline that has been imposed on any of our members."
Among the OPP's other findings:
- Officers gathered at the main door to Centre Block but hesitated entering because of standing directives to never enter the building armed.
- The Oct. 22 shooting was "a grim reminder that Canada is ill-prepared to prevent and respond to such attacks."
- Limited resources because of budgets cuts in 2011 forced the RCMP to rely on reservists and overtime to meet proper staffing levels.
- Many previous recommendations to address security challenges, such as improving radio communications and establishing regular joint training exercises with Ottawa police, Commons and Senate security, had not been implemented.
Many of the OPP's 66 recommendations on how to improve security have been redacted in the reports. Michaud said some have already been implemented.
An earlier Ottawa police report revealed that the sheer scale of the police response on Oct. 22 contributed to confusion about how many suspects were involved. More than 300 Ottawa police officers responded to the shooting, including dozens who deployed themselves upon hearing the news.
RCMP's new role on the Hill
The reports come as the RCMP is set to assume control of a new Parliamentary Protective Service and take over sole responsibility for security in and around Parliament Hill.
Sheer acknowledged there have been complaints from parliamentarians about delays getting into the Parliament buildings ahead of votes. Still, he said he believes the RCMP are up to the task of balancing the practical aspect of protecting the building and the need for access.
"We're very confident in the early meetings we've had working towards the change that will be implemented. My sense is that there's a great deal of understanding about those very issues and I'm very confident we're going to find a solution," he said.
Housakos said many security improvements on the Hill were in the works prior to the shooting, and that has continued since.
"The tragic events of Oct. 22 have marked us forever. It has also been the catalyst of becoming a stronger, unified security force on Parliament Hill," Housakos said.