Politics·Analysis

Kevin Vickers's bravery less valued in discreet world of diplomacy: Chris Hall

As Kevin Vickers's role in bringing down Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau attests, he's a man of great personal courage. But Vickers is no longer a security officer. He is Canada's representative in Ireland, and that role depends not on bravery but discretion, Chris Hall writes.

Removal of protester shows Canada's ambassador to Ireland is still a security officer at heart

Former House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers removes a protester from an event in Dublin on Thursday. (Brian Lawless/AP)

​​Kevin Vickers is a Canadian diplomat, but it would appear he remains a security officer at heart and in his mind.

Canada's ambassador to Ireland raised a few eyebrows, and possibly a few pints among his many friends and supporters back in Ottawa, when he decided to grab a protester at a commemorative ceremony Thursday in his host country and drag him away from the podium.

As Irish police and members of a military honour guard stood by, Vickers confronted the man who was shouting that the ceremony, held in remembrance of more than 100 British soldiers who died during the Easter Rising 100 years ago, was an insult to Ireland and a disgrace.

Many of the ringleaders of that uprising against British rule in Ireland were hastily executed. It remains an event of great historical significance.

The Irish Times reported that Thursday's event in Dublin was a joint British-Irish affair attended by, among other dignitaries, Britain's ambassador to Ireland, Dominick Chilcott. It was about reconciliation.

Chilcott apparently didn't feel the need to act when the man identified as Brian Murphy decided to exercise his democratic right to protest.

Vickers, a former RCMP officer and House of Commons sergeant-at-arms, clearly felt otherwise.

The video is something to watch.

RAW: Kevin Vickers tackles protester in Dublin

7 years ago
Duration 0:46
Former House sergeant-at-arms, now ambassador to Ireland, takes down protestor at ceremony

Vickers, his green tie askew and trench coat flapping, drags the fellow away from the podium until police finally step in. The video then shows the ambassador briskly returning to the event.

Now, Kevin Vickers is a fine man. During his time as the sergeant-at-arms he was universally liked and respected by MPs and, yes, the journalists who cover the Hill.

He is a person of enormous personal integrity. And as his role in bringing down Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau attests, he's a man of even greater personal courage.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with the House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers on Oct. 23, 2014, the day after Vickers helped stop a shooter who had stormed Parliament Hill. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

But Vickers is no longer a security officer. He is Canada's representative in Ireland. That role depends not on bravery but discretion.

Ambassadors are supposed to stay out of domestic issues in their host country, as some on social media quickly pointed out.

How would Canadians react, asked one, if the Chinese ambassador dragged away a Canadian protesting against China's role in Tibet?

And then there's the non-hypothetical examples, such as when U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins warned in the 2006 election that the Liberals' rhetoric on softwood lumber might hurt relations, or when his successor David Jacobson suggested the Conservative government of the day needed to show it was serious about combating climate change. Those words were seen as undiplomatic.

Diplomacy, it is said, is the act of thinking twice before saying nothing.

The Canadian government obviously gets that. Global Affairs Canada issued a statement Thursday that stated only the obvious. 

"Ambassador Vickers intercepted a protester who ran up to the podium. Moments later security officers arrested the protester. Ambassador Vickers is safe and was not injured during the incident."

'AmBadAssador'

Those responding on social media had a lot to say. Twitter exploded.

Our "AmBadAssador," read one tweet. "Kevin Vickers still kicking ass," said another.

Conservative MPs even got into the act, comparing Vickers to a superhero. Another warned the world "not to mess with Kevin."

These are MPs from the same party that just last week expressed great outrage that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grabbed one of their own and elbowed a New Democrat in the House of Commons

Liberal MPs, uncharacteristically, had little to say. Irish authorities, too, stayed mostly mum.

Part of it is that Vickers is deserving of his celebrity. Another is that he is a political appointee, not a career public service officer. But mostly he is a man people like, and will give any benefit of the doubt.

So how serious is it that Vickers became physical with someone in Ireland? The answer will depend on a number of things.

'Greater degree of scrutiny'

First, how will the Irish government react? The view among a number of foreign service officers is that it's highly unlikely there will be any formal protest. Vickers, they point out, was at the Easter Rising ceremony as the guest of Ireland's foreign affairs minister.

Second, will his actions undermine his ability to do his job? That, too, depends on how the Irish government reacts. Perhaps Vickers saw the man as a threat. Perhaps the instinct honed during his years with the RCMP simply kicked in. The feeling is that it will blow over just as quickly as the event itself.

Power Panel: Ambassador Vickers tackles protestor

7 years ago
Duration 9:13
The Power Panel discusses Ambassador Kevin Vickers's tussle with a protester in Dublin

Third, foreign officers are supposed to follow guidelines set out in a document entitled "Conduct Abroad Code." It warns anyone posted overseas that "their conduct and actions will be subject to a greater degree of scrutiny and public interest than they would be at home," and that the potential for public scrutiny "requires that representatives use good judgment and common sense."

The question now is whether a physical altercation with a protester shows the kind of judgment or common sense a diplomatic posting requires.

Especially for an ambassador who remains a security officer at heart.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998. Follow him on Twitter: @chrishallcbc

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now