|The shootings in Ottawa began at the National War Memorial at 9:52 a.m.. on that day|
On Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Stephen Harper walked into Room 237-C in the heart of Parliament Hill’s Centre Block for the weekly gathering of the Conservative caucus.
In recent days, he had been absorbed – both publicly and behind closed doors – with the apparent threat posed by lone-wolf attackers who might become “radicalized” by Islamic extremists abroad.
Within about 30 minutes, his and the nation’s security would explode in a flurry of gunfire just outside the door of the room where he and dozens of MPs and senators were gathered.
From their leather-backed seats in what’s called the “Reading Room,” its towering walls bedecked with historic murals from the 1920s, Tory MPs and senators were discussing issues under the usual cloak of secrecy.
At the front of the room, likely sitting at his normal spot on a raised dais, was Harper.
Then, in the hallway outside, shots began ringing out in rapid succession. Five, then 10, then 20 or 30, some believe. Possibly more.
A gunman had entered the Centre Block just moments before, and had walked right by the door leading into the room containing Harper and his Conservatives. He was killed by security.
Following security protocol, Harper was quickly whisked from Parliament Hill to an undisclosed location.
At 10:20 a.m., Harper’s director of communications, Jason MacDonald, tweeted: ”@pmharper is safe and has left Parliament Hill.”
Inside the caucus room, however, pandemonium quickly ensued. Conservative MPs piled chairs as high as they could against all the doors inside the room as a barricade to keep out the shooter.
Former Mounties such as Tory MPs David Wilks and Rob Clarke helped secure the room and keep Conservative caucus members as calm as possible, according to some inside the room.
“Mom Im okay Im in hiding,” tweeted Conservative cabinet minister Michelle Rempel, who escaped from the caucus room and ran upstairs to barricade herself in another room. “Is it clear people? shots were outside caucus room,” she later tweeted.
A picture posted on Twitter and credited to Conservative MP Nina Grewal showed green chairs from the Tory caucus room piled up against a door, and MPs glued to their phones taking calls or sending messages.
“Shots fired just outside our caucus meeting. Am ok,” tweeted Conservative MP Eve Adams, parliamentary secretary to the health minister.
Treasury Board president Tony Clement told the Ottawa Citizen: “Well, it all happened so fast. Two booms then lots of gunfire. Some of us escaped while others barricaded themselves.”
Now, in the wake of the shooting that left a Canadian soldier dead, parliamentarians in shock, and much of downtown Ottawa in lockdown well into the evening, the prime minister faces one of the biggest challenges of his political career.
Earlier in the week, a Canadian soldier in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. was run down by a vehicle operated by a man whom the government said had been “radicalized.”
“This was a despicable act of violence that strikes against not just this soldier and his colleagues but frankly against our very values as a civilized democracy,” Harper had told the Commons on Tuesday.
Now, after the unprecedented twin attacks at Canada’s War Memorial and Parliament Hill, an intense spotlight will shine on how the Conservative government tightens security measures against radicalized attackers opposed to this country’s policies, such as the military mission against ISIL in Iraq.
At 12:06 p.m., another statement by the PMO’s MacDonald was released, which referred to the earlier attack at the National War Memorial and on Parliament Hill.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who were attacked. The Prime Minister is safe and not on Parliament Hill and being briefed by security officials. “
MacDonald said the police “continue to do their important work and we are still gathering the facts.”
With that, Harper burrowed down with officials to review the attack – what was known about the gunman and whether other suspects might still be on the loose – and prepared to make a statement to Canadians during the evening.
By 1 p.m., Harper was meeting with RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson; his office did not divulge the location.
At 2:28 p.m., the PMO tweeted a photo of Harper speaking to U.S. President Barack Obama on the phone about the attack.
Meanwhile, Harper also spoke to NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The NDP caucus had been meeting directly across the hall from the Tories and its members were also fortunate that the attacker did not enter their room. The Liberals had been holding their caucus meeting at the time of the attack in a room one floor below the Tories and NDP.
At 2:25 p.m., the PMO released a statement saying that Harper was “thankful that Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau are safe.
“The Prime Minister reiterated the importance of the continued functioning of the government and our Parliament,” said the PMO.
“While the Prime Minister stated that facts are still being gathered, he condemned this despicable attack.”
At 4:08 p.m., the PMO tweeted a photo of Harper in a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the crisis evolved, cabinet ministers began gathering with Harper.
At 6:08 p.m., the PMO tweeted a photo of Harper meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
Then, soon after 8 p.m., a sombre Harper delivered a brief televised address to the nation, vowing that Canada would not be intimidated by terrorists.
“This week’s events are a grim reminder that Canada is not immune to the types of terrorist attacks we have seen elsewhere around the world,” he said.
“Let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated.”
Following his speech to the nation, Harper addressed fellow Conservative parliamentarians Wednesday night at the Lester B. Pearson building.
Harper’s wife, Laureen, and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird ordered pizza.
“Good way for everyone to unwind,” said one MP.