Prince Edward Island MPs and senators and other Islanders in Ottawa are safe after a shooting on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning.
Charlottetown MP Sean Casey and Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay remain in lockdown in Parliament’s Centre Block, where shots were fired by a rifle-wielding gunman just before 10 a.m. Wednesday in Ottawa.
The MPs had just finished a meeting of the Atlantic Liberal caucus in a boardroom adjacent to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s office on the fifth floor of the building.
That’s when the gunman entered Centre Block after fatally shooting the soldier who was serving as an honour guard at the National War Memorial nearby.
Shots were fired inside the parliament building and a security guard is believed to have been wounded. The assailant was shot dead by the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons.
A few floors up, Casey was sitting at his caucus meeting table. A nearby window was open.
That’s when he heard someone shout, “Get down!”
“It startled at least a couple of us, I looked across the room at (MP) Scott Brison and he had a startled look on his face and it just struck me that whoever said that meant business,” Casey said.
“Then there was a sound that I thought was a construction crane hitting against a hard surface… I don’t think I’ve ever heard gunshots other than in a movie theatre, so I didn’t realize that’s what it was.”
Sirens started wailing and then MPs Hedy Fry and Frank Valeriote, who are not members of the Atlantic caucus, came bursting into the room.
“We were all kind of bewildered. There was a lot of confusion at that stage and then we were told, ‘Get away from the windows, get away from the doors,’” Casey recalls.
The MPs remained in lockdown in this room for several hours until two fully armed SWAT team members escorted them to another room in the building, where they remained, still in lockdown. They were glued to television new coverage and social media, looking for updates.
MacAulay used this time to catch up on birthday calls to constituents in Cardigan.
Malpeque MP Wayne Easter had to leave the meeting early and had just walked out of the Centre Block building before the shooter entered.
“I’m glad I happened to not be five minutes later, because that’s where it was,” Easter said.
He spent the day in lockdown in the justice building, a four-minute walk away.
“There’s no question, you can’t help but be overcome with sadness that this is happening in our country. It’s something that Canadians don’t understand, we’ve never seen this kind of attack close to home on our Parliamentary institutions,” Easter said.
A staffer in Egmont MP and Fisheries Minister Gail Shea’s office told The Guardian Shea was safe but unavailable for an interview.
Senator Libbe Hubley was on a plane back to P.E.I. when the shooting occurred at the war memorial in Ottawa. Staff in her office, including P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz’s sister Joanne, were in a separate building and said they did not hear any of the gunshots.
Senator Percy Downe was in lockdown in his office, which overlooks Parliament Hill, when he spoke to The Guardian.
“We live in a dangerous world and unfortunately these incidents happen all over the world,’’ Downe said.
“That doesn’t mean that Canadians are going to back down from the fight and not do what is right.’’
Across the street, at the Westin Hotel, Confederation Centre of the Arts CEO Jessie Inman, who was in Ottawa for an event that evening, watched out her window as the buildings and sidewalks surrounding Parliament Hill were cleared and cordoned off by security officials.
“I just saw a lot of police, a lot of police cars, a lot of people running in police gear to and from Parliament Hill, all around the Chateau Laurier. It was very chaotic,” Inman said.
“It makes you feel scared, it makes you feel that your country is not as safe as you thought it was, or at least, as you hoped it was.”
Despite the many questions that will arise over the future security of the Parliament buildings, both Casey and Easter expressed concern over their continued accessibility to the public.
“You can’t let the fear factor prevent us from being the free country that we are,” Easter said.
“Parliament Hill is paid for by the taxpayers and the taxpayers should have access to it. And that has to be balanced against the need for safety and security,” Casey said.
With files from Guardian reporter Jim Day and The Canadian Press firstname.lastname@example.org