Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

October 22, 2014

Terror comes to Ottawa

Filed under: General Homeland Security,International HLS — by Arnold Bogis on October 22, 2014

The terrible tragedy that unfolded today in Canada’s capital has yet to be fully resolved.  The identified gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed at the scene, reportedly by the Sergeant-at-arms of the Canadian parliament Kevin Vickers. Preliminary reports suggested there were additional shooters, though by the close of the day the idea that it was only the one was gaining traction.

Most tragically, that one terrorist killed a Canadian Forces member on duty as an honor guard at the National War Memorial close to the parliament complex.  That member, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a reservist from Hamilton, Ontario was only 24 years old. He leaves behind a son.

This story is still developing.  It will take time to learn the motive and motivation for this attack, the existence of connections foreign or Canadian, and the impact on Canadian (and American) security policies. For the best coverage, I would suggest following Canadian news sources:

A few initial, and random, thoughts not directly related to the Canadian security situation:

  •  As I watched the initial news coverage, I was dismayed to listen to several anchors across different networks speculate that this attack was terrorism.  Of course it was – an armed attack on the symbols of a nation’s government.  My displeasure came from the overtly implied definition of terrorism – that it must involve a nexus with Islamic fundamentalism.  In this case assumed to be ISIS.  Indeed, by the end of the day that connection became a little more concrete.  However, at the start of events it was described as the act of a gunman or gunmen either crazy or motivated by unknown drivers OR it had a connection to ISIS/Al Qaeda/Islamic fundamentalism and such considered terrorism.  I genuinely fear that in the popular conception, terrorism is no longer an act used to achieve political ends (intimidate or terrorize a population or coerce government policy) but intrinsically tied to Islam. So all violent, criminal acts carried out by Muslims is terrorism (e.g. the recent beheading in Oklahoma) while any violent act that is directed toward government agencies by non-Muslims is just a criminal act (e.g. flying a small plane into an IRS station or ambushing state patrol officers).


  • During the first press conference of the various security agencies I found it interesting that the official advice to the population of Ottawa was something along the lines of (paraphrasing here): “if you are not already downtown, stay away; for those in downtown, listen to your building managers as to what to do.” There was no direct order to shelter-in-place.  Instead, a seeming trust in the actions and advice of civilian liaisons was assumed.  I’ve heard of a similar relationship in the City of London, where the police have a close relationship with the businesses that make up London’s financial district in which they are considered partners in security preparedness.  But I was a little surprised, and impressed, by the example shown in Ottawa this afternoon.


  • The founder of this blog (is it appropriate to refer to him as the Blog Father?), Christian Beckner, presciently posted last night at the Homeland Security Policy Institute Blog on “Fear Canada? Examining the Border-Counterterroism nexus.” While it did not directly address the events of today, it certainly reminded readers that terrorist threats have arisen before in Canada and can pose a threat to the United States.


  • Finally, the video posted below of the reaction of security forces inside Canada’s parliament to the first sounds of gunfire has been played countless times on cable news.  It still never ceases to amaze me how brave first responders all around the world run toward danger instead of away from it.

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Comment by Philip J. Palin

October 23, 2014 @ 7:52 am


Thank you. These are dramatic and emotionally evocative scenes.

I hope you can find out more on the SIP protocols.

I share your concern with the very early — basically binary — assumptions that media and many others were making about the attack. That this speculation has been confirmed as correct reinforces the tendency… and unfortunately excludes several other plausible threats that should at least be actively considered.

This morning the implication on US morning news shows seems to be, we’re next. What can be done to stop it? I agree that, one way or another, we are somewhere in line for such an attack or a much worse attack. The follow-on question is entirely reasonable.

It would also be helpful if we were much more realistic in our rhetoric and expectations regarding the actual ability to prevent such attacks. A lone wolf or very small pack can seldom be identified until it is (almost) too late. We can displace and delay but we cannot entirely prevent.

The only places that I don’t hear this talked about is on television or on the political campaign (two versions of the same place?). It is, in my experience, a foregone conclusion by everyone else I know: right/left, young/old, whatever.

It is also a realistic and helpful form of psycho-social mitigation. But when an actual attack happens, the political/media frenzy seems to be surprised all over again and wondering who to blame. It’s tough to resist such contagion.

Given your Boston roots, I’m guessing you have seen some of this (or something very different?) up close. Any suggestions?

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 23, 2014 @ 10:25 am

Thanks Arnold!

Comment by John Comiskey

October 23, 2014 @ 10:42 am

HLS Media 101

This morning I had the unpleasant experience of watching media coverage of the still unfolding Ferguson police-involved shooting narrative. I was dismayed by multi-media outlets attempts to try the case in a media court, notwithstanding existing and constitutionally guaranteed legal processes.

In the case of the Ottawa attacks as in other similar attacks, the media all too often asserts politically correct/erroneous/subjective commentary.

Civics 101 taught me that the media is supposed to be or at least try to be objective. Report the news as it unfolds. Tell what you know and acknowledge that all the facts and circumstances are or are not available.

Where are the Walter Cronkites?

Comment by Arnold Bogis

October 23, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

Phil, I agree with you on the political/media reaction to each attack or thwarted attempt. Though I think I’m more pessimistic about most people’s perception and willingness to accept risk. At least most recently and in the large group of people who don’t follow this issue on any type of regular basis. Unfortunately.

Shortly after 9/11, I seem to remember that it was not only politically acceptable but considered conventional wisdom that we would be attacked again, regardless of what we did. Instead, the worry was that 9/11 might represent a new floor instead of ceiling in the impact of attacks and our efforts should be focused on preventing the catastrophic.

Perhaps with the success of efforts at preventing the next big attack (and/or the lack of terrorist capabilities and capacity – the “they got lucky on 9/11” theory), the willingness to accept risk decreased. I’d guess probably driven by a combination of politics, media, and “us” – the national and homeland security community in and out of government that grew exponentially following 9/11.

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