56 Hours That Changed a Nation | By Jeremy Hamelin

The events of 56 hours will indefinitely leave a mark on Canadian history. From the hit-and-run in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu to the attack on the Nation’s capital city: Ottawa. Canada, more specifically the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces, has come under siege. In the paragraphs to follow I will walk you through the time line of tragic events that lead to the death of two brave members of the Canadian Forces (CF) and the attackers.

It all started on Monday, October 20th at approximately 9:00EST in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, a small city about 50km southeast of Montreal. Martin “Ahmed” Couture-Rouleau, sat in his car for two hours outside of a strip-mall apparently waiting for his target. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and another fellow CF member were walking outside the mall when Rouleau put his car in gear and ran them down. The unnamed soldier survived with minor injuries, WO Vincent, unfortunately succumbed to his injuries and passed away. According to the National Post, police chased Rouleau for four kilometers until he flipped his car. Rouleau proceeded to exit his car wielding a knife to which police responded with gunfire. In the hours after the incident it became clear that Rouleau was not simply a disgruntled citizen but rather a radicalized Islamist. The National Post reported that Rouleau was known to counter-terrorism authorities, his passport had been seized, and he was a member of a 90 person long list of people with ties to militant groups. It has since become known that Rouleau was inspired to commit his attack by ISIS.

Just over 48 hours later, according to Liberal MP Mark Garneau at approximately 9:50EST Wednesday, October 22nd, MPs received the first word of a shooting on Parliament Hill. The MPs were told to take cover and the entire downtown of Ottawa was placed on lockdown. The attacker in this event was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a 32 year old Quebec man. He started at the National War Memorial where two ceremonial guards stood at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Witnesses reported that Bibeau fired off five to six shots all in the direction of 24 year old Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a proud member of the CF Reserves. Cpl. Cirillo unfortunately died later in hospital. Both honour guards were positioned with C7 assault rifles however due to their ceremonial position these were unloaded weapons. There is video of Bibeau calmly walking from the War Memorial to his car where it is presumed he made a U-turn and parked in front of Parliament Hill on Wellington Street. Reports then indicate that he hijacked a ministerial car and drove it towards the front door of the Centre Block.

As word of the Ottawa shootings got out there was a heightened sense of fear. At around 11:00EST reports started to flow into Global News of various reactions around the country. Global Reporter Robin Gill said that the status-quo was no longer in place at provincial Legislatures where security officials beefed up their presence. Due to the targeting of CF members in both cases Canadian Forces Bases (CFBs) across the country went onto high alert, several of them in fact closed their gates and went into lockdown. As news continued to break top CF leaders announced that CF members should not wear their uniforms unless on active duty so as to avoid the possibility of more attacks.

At 11:27EST the public was given the first word that the attacker had been shot and killed via the Global News live webcast from Ottawa. Just nine minutes later at 11:36EST various Canadian press agencies reported that the man that in fact shot the assailant was the Parliamentary Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers. Vickers was a seasoned veteran of the RCMP before taking his posting as Sergeant-at-Arms on Parliament Hill. A video was later released by a National Post reporter who was bogged down in the Hall of Honour within the Centre Block that depicted the barrage of gunfire that inevitably lead to Bibeau’s death. It was around the same time that Canadians finally had word that the Prime Minister (PM) and other Party Leaders were safe and secure, barricaded in various rooms within the Centre Block—with the exception of Prime Minister Harper who was seen leaving in his motorcade after the firefight started. The specific timing of the attack in Ottawa also added to the fear. Wednesday mornings are the time of Party Caucus meetings. Hundreds upon hundreds of MPs were in the Centre Block that morning, in fact the Conservative and NDP meeting rooms were directly adjacent to the Hall of Honour were the gunman was killed. Canadians and Parliamentarians alike are very aware that had the Bibeau struck just an hour later when the meetings broke we would have an entirely different story. Hundreds of MPs would have piled into the Hall of Honour unknowing the horrors to come. They would have been left to the mercy of Bibeau and his rifle. Vickers is Canada’s newest hero having saved not only the lives of MPs but also the various citizens and tourists in the building while the events unfolded.

In addition to the War Memorial and Parliament Hill at around 12:00EST reports came in that a third area of shooting existed: The Rideau Centre, a shopping mall blocks from the Hill. The CBC’s webcast said that witnesses reported police running through the mall and the mall being locked down. It was not until later that reports of a violent threat at the Rideau Centre were retracted by RCMP and Police officials. It was also in this hour that we learned that NORAD had been placed on a higher alert than they had previously been operating on.

At approximately the same time as the Rideau Centre reports came in we received the first word from the PM in the form of a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The statement had the expect information that the PM was “safe…[and] being briefed,” and that he would give a “statement later [that day].” However what was rather shocking about the statement was the language used in it. The PMO called the events of the day an “attack” on Parliament Hill and Canada. New developments from then on were rather scares and minimal in nature, such as the tweeted photo of PM Harper meeting with Ministers of Defence, Justice, Public Safety, and Foreign Affairs at around 18:00EST. The next biggest news item came at around 20:15EST when the PM as well as Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair (NDP) and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made statements of their own. Although the statements were issued separately—as the men were all in different locations—all three statements were rather uniform in their messages. The PM called the attacks “despicable,” he also referred to the death of Cpl. Cirillo as “cold-blooded murder.” The PM was the only leader to refer to the perpetrator directly as a “terrorist.”  NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair echoed these statements adding that the goal of these attacks was to “make us more fearful of our neighbours” he said however that they “only succeeded in drawing us closer and making us stronger.” He continued to say that tomorrow we will wake up in the same country of “love, diversity and peace,” and that these events “will not” drive us to hate. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made a specific point of addressing the Muslim community by saying that “Canadians know that acts such as these committed in the name of Islam are an aberration of your faith.”

These events will undoubtedly have a major affect. One Global News source, a security specialist, André Gerolymatos said that the “country is changing as we speak.” He said that “we are in a new kind of war,” that “homegrown terrorists” are the new weapons being used against us. He had a rather radical idea that Canadians moving forward will be very cautious in locations previously thought to be safe such as shopping malls. Gerolymatos raises a very interesting point, there is forever now going to be the specter of homegrown terrorism implanted in the minds of Canadians. The challenge is going to be moving forward positively, in that stereotypical Canadian matter, despite this spectre.

Photography credit of Ashley Fraser/Ottawa Citizen

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