Parliament Hill shooter Zehaf-Bibeau's cellphone manifesto barely a minute long

The cellphone video belonging to Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is expected to be made public Friday. CBC News has learned it is barely a minute long, so it may not stem the debate over whether he is a committed jihadist or merely a mentally disturbed individual.

Cellphone video expected to be made public Friday after months of delay

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, right, seen here with Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, is to unveil the long-awaited cellphone video from Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau is dead, felled by police gunfire inside the Centre Block of Parliament Hill on Oct. 22 after shooting a Canadian soldier in the back.

The question of why he did it, what exactly motivated his attack on one of Canada's most visible symbols of democracy should finally be answered on Friday, when RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson releases the video Zehaf-Bibeau made on his cellphone.

Sources tell CBC News the video statement is not even a minute long, but in that brief period Zehaf-Bibeau explains that he attacked Parliament to avenge Canadian forces being sent to Muslim lands.

That presumably includes Afghanistan, and Canada's participation in the air strikes against Libya — the country where Zehaf-Bibeau's father was born.

For Conservatives, it seems that a minute-long video is more than enough justification for the months spent dissecting Canada's anti-terrorism efforts, work that culminated with the introduction of Bill C-51 at the end of January.

But will there be enough there for Canadians to decide whether Zehaf-Bibeau's thoughts reveal the actions of a jihadi terrorist, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintains, or those of a deranged lone wolf with a history of drug abuse and mental health problems.

"I have not seen the video," Harper said Wednesday at a news conference to announce the government's plans to eliminate parole for the most violent offenders, including those "criminals who so despise our values or way of life that they carry out deadly attacks of terrorism or high treason."

But sources tell CBC News the prime minister has been briefed on its contents, and he has had no problem linking the government's new anti-terror measures to Zehab-Bibeau's actions.

"I think Canadian are well aware, not just because of the Oct 22 attacks but what they can see around the world, that unfortunately the threat of terrorism and violent jihadism is very real."

The trigger for Bill C-51

The events that day, and the hit-and-run murder of another Canadian soldier in Quebec just two day earlier by Martin Couture-Rouleau, led to an intensive government review of Canadian security measures. 

The response set out in Bill C-51 includes a much broader (critics say too broad) definition of terrorist activity, new powers for the spy agency CSIS, and the removal of privacy limits that now prevent government agencies from sharing sensitive information on Canadians in the effort to disrupt potential terrorist plots.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Zehaf-Bibeau Video

7 years ago
RCMP to show Zehaf-Bibeau video to MPs on Friday 1:02

To critics, the bill is a gross over-reaction to two tragic, yet isolated events. To others, the threat of terrorism committed at home by two seemingly radicalized Canadians requires a firm response, even at the expense of privacy and other civil rights.

The prime minister has said, repeatedly, that Canadians support what the government's doing, even though public opinion polls vary widely on how terrorism ranks as a top-of-mind issues for voters.

For the Conservatives, security is as important an electoral theme as the economy, in large part because it's a narrative they control at a time when job creation and energy prices are influenced by too many outside factors.

Paulson, himself, is the primary source for the Conservatives applying the terrorism label to Zehaf-Bibeau, and the subsequent debate that has erupted because of it.

The commissioner initially said the video would be released publicly, only to backtrack later by suggesting only a partial transcript of the video would be made public.

"I appreciate your forbearance as we hold onto this video to make sure that we can extract the maximum amount of intelligence and evidence from the video,'' he told reporters on Oct. 27 when asked why Zehaf-Bibeau's video statement wasn't being released.

"But he was quite deliberate, he was quite lucid and he was quite purposeful in articulating the basis for his action and they were in respect, broadly, to Canada's foreign policy and also in respect to his religious beliefs.''

Sources say the decision to release the video this week was also Paulson's.

Not on a watch list

CBC News has reported that Zehaf-Bibeau made no secret of his political views to workmates at a British Columbia construction site from 2007 to 2009, defending the Taliban for resisting Canadian and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. 

He even showed off recordings of Taliban ambushes of Canadian soldiers.

Under the new legislation, those actions could lead to charges as it would be an offence to promote terrorism in general.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has said that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, had committed a 'criminal act' and that based on the shooter's past, there wasn't enough evidence to describe his actions as terrorism. (Vancouver Police Department)

Even so, it's not clear that would have been enough to bring him to the attention of CSIS or the police before he killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, who was standing on ceremonial guard duty at the National Cenotaph, across the street from Parliament Hill.

Paulson has already indicated Zehaf-Bibeau was not among the 93 people on the force's watch list of potential terrorists, though he was "known" to them.

The RCMP had been doing a background check for his passport application. But despite a criminal record for drug possession and violence, there was nothing to flag him as a dangerous radical.

At least not before RCMP investigators came across Zehaf-Bibeau's video statement, recorded in his car just before he carried out his deadly deed.

That's the evidence that Paulson is only now willing to share with Canadians, four months after the assault on Parliament Hill stunned a nation and prompted a massive overhaul of Canada's anti-terror laws.


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.


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