OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Canadians returned to the reopened grounds of Parliament Hill on Saturday just three days after a gunman shot and killed a soldier at the national war memorial and then stormed Parliament before he was gunned down.
House Speaker Andrew Scheer said tours of Parliament will resume Monday, but visitors can expect to see a heightened Royal Canadian Mounted Police presence at building entrances. Counseling sessions will be provided for Commons staff, he said.
The reopening comes at a time when Canadians are debating how to balance homeland safety and freedoms in a country that treasures its image as an orderly, open society, a place where the seat of government welcomes weekly public yoga sessions on its front lawn beneath a monument called the Peace Tower.
Brett Connors was among the visitors who came to the reopened grounds of Parliament Hill, accompanying his 11-year-old daughter’s youth hockey team as players took photos in front of a flame commemorating the nation’s 1967 centennial. He said reopening Parliament Hill, and soon the building, to the public sends an important signal.
“It represents democracy. So by closing it, it’s like closing the country down,” said Connors, of Scarborough, near Toronto. “One single incident can’t be bigger than our whole democracy.”
“You have tragedy, but you have to rise from that,” he said.
Shirley Savage made a point of visiting the grounds Saturday, during a weekend trip from her home in Belleville, Ontario. She had been there before, but this time, the visit symbolized “the fact that Canadians are standing together,” she said.
The attack in Ottawa came two days after a man described as an “ISIL-inspired terrorist” ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot to death by police. The man had been under surveillance by Canadian authorities, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
The Ottawa gunman was identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. Muslim leaders said Friday that Zehaf-Bibeau once complained that a Vancouver mosque he attended was too liberal and inclusive, and was kicked out after he repeatedly spent the night there even though officials told him to stop.
On Wednesday, Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, shot to death Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, 24, who was assigned to the honor guard at the national war memorial. Zehaf-Bibeau was eventually gunned down inside Parliament by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, Kevin Vickers.
Zehaf-Bibeau’s motive remains unknown, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has called the shooting a terror attack, and the bloodshed raised fears that Canada is suffering reprisals for joining the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.
Unlike the attacker in the Quebec case, Zehaf-Bibeau was not being watched by authorities. But a top police official said Zehaf-Bibeau — whose father was from Libya — may have lashed out in frustration over delays in getting his passport.
Abubakir Abdelkareem, who often visited the Ottawa Mission, a homeless shelter downtown where Zehaf-Bibeau stayed in recent weeks, said Zehaf-Bibeau told him he had had a drug problem but had been clean for three months and was trying to steer clear of temptation by going to Libya.