Elizabeth May 'baffled' by choice to preserve bullet holes from Parliament Hill shooting
'We should have had a public inquiry,' says May. 'We should cover up the bullet holes now'
The people responsible for renovating Centre Block on Parliament Hill say the bullet holes from a 2014 shooting are part of the building's "heritage fabric" and will be preserved. But Green MP Elizabeth May they should have been repaired a long time ago.
On Oct. 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa, then stormed Parliament Hill, where he was killed in a shootout with security officers and the RCMP.
During a tour of Centre Block renovations this week, Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada, told reporters: "It's been decided [the bullet holes are] part of the heritage fabric of this building now. So we plan on no changes to that."
May, who spent that chaotic day locked inside her office, says she and her colleagues were not consulted about this decision, and she has better ideas about how the government can honour the history of the terrifying event. Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
What do you make of the government's decision to preserve these bullet holes in Centre Block?
I'm baffled by what makes them think this is now part of our Canadian heritage. I think those bullet holes should have been repaired long ago.
And the idea that now we're spending I don't know how many hundreds of millions of dollars on refurbishing Centre Block, someone has made a decision. I don't know what kind of consultation they did, but I think it's a mistake.
You know, sometimes when you visit historic sites around the world, they will show you damage from wartime or various attacks. They'll point out bullet holes, that sort of thing. Is this not part of the building's history now?
We haven't preserved other things from the building's history. And, you know, obviously we lost all of the building except the original library to fire, but we didn't keep charred bits of the Parliament from the rebuilding that happened after the fire. We could have.
And the episode that happened, and it was so tragic and so traumatic at the time, and yet unexamined, right? So this is another part that bothers me. I can't imagine another modern democracy that wouldn't have had a public inquiry into what happened when a very disturbed individual carrying a long gun was able to pass by many RCMP vehicles outside the building and walk into Parliament.
I have a lot of questions about what really happened that day and who was really responsible. Those questions are never answered. But instead, we're going to sort of memorialize the notion of something violent that happened on Parliament Hill by keeping the bullet holes there. And it just strikes me as the wrong area of focus. We should cover up the bullet holes now.
While the renovations are underway, Centre Block remains inaccessible. And that's going to be true for about 10 years anyway. Before the renovations, though, when you walked past those bullet holes, what came to mind for you?
I was angry. I was angry that a gun was fired across the Hall of Honour.
There were bullets fired all over the place. And we have never had an inquiry into who was in charge, whether there was a slip-up in security that led to an armed man making his way into Parliament Hill.
And we also know that the changes that were put in place by [then-prime minister] Stephen Harper virtually immediately were to put the RCMP in charge of our security, which violates 500 years of parliamentary tradition, violates parliamentary privilege. The Speaker of the House, non-partisan and not in the chain of command to the government of the day, has always been in charge of security, and Harper changed it to put the RCMP, who report to the prime minister, in charge of our security.
It puts me in mind of the fact that I'm still angry about the way in which government handled what was a tragic and preventable event. But we want to sort of treat the bullet holes as somehow venerated. I think our priorities are wrong.
Can you take us back to that day six years ago and what your most vivid memories are of those happenings?
What I remember about it, of course, was that I'd left Parliament Hill. I'd walked back to my office in Confederation Building and then spent the next nine hours or 10 hours in lockdown with my team inside our Confederation office building with not knowing what was going on. We were told there were gunmen on the roof, there were maybe more people in the building. It was a day where we were responsible and careful, and I was constantly trying to figure out what was going on.
The people who conduct the tours always point out sites of interest on Parliament Hill. The decision has been taken that when people are walking through, they will not be pointing out the bullet holes. Does that help a little bit for you?
If you think that they're important to preserve, why aren't they on the tour? I mean, it seems as if it's an unclear position to take that this is somehow part of the heritage of Centre Block, but we won't talk about it when we take people on the tour.
Do you think about your safety any more than you did before the attack? Are you feeling that the security is currently sufficient for you?
What did disturb me and still disturbs me is ... the people who performed well — and this is just my personal opinion — the people who performed well are our parliamentary personal security officers. The Parliamentary Security Service performed brilliantly. The RCMP officers who were [surrounding] the building in their vehicles didn't notice an armed man running by them. I think it's because they had vehicular awareness, not pedestrian awareness.
So I remain convinced that we would do better to focus on, even at this late date, an inquiry into the security breaches on Parliament Hill. Then I'd feel safer.
Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Canadian Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.