NEWS

Ottawa shooting: RCMP, House security radios on different frequencies

10/27/2014 04:42 EDT | Updated 12/27/2014 05:59 EST
The security forces protecting Parliament must be better integrated, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said Monday, less than a week after a gunman killed a soldier at the National War Memorial, ran onto the Hill to hijack a car, and died metres from the rooms where MPs were meeting.

Concerns have been raised repeatedly over the years about the different silos in which law enforcement and security officials operate on and around Parliament Hill, including by Auditor General Michael Ferguson, who reported on them in 2012.

In question period Monday, Blaney said, "the silos we have today are not adequate. Security inside Parliament must be integrated with outside security forces."

CBC News has learned those security forces can't even speak to each other by radio because their radios use different frequencies.

The RCMP is responsible for security on the grounds of Parliament Hill, while the House of Commons and Senate each have separate protective services.

The Senate and House command centres can monitor the RCMP frequency but would have to speak by phone to communicate directly, slowing down crucial communications during emergencies.

Separate security service may be necessary

Last week added an additional complication, with the Ottawa Police Service responsible for responding to the National War Memorial for the shooting death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.

Even the RCMP officers assigned to Prime Minister Stephen Harper had to hand off responsibility to House security officials once they hit the door of Centre Block. That has now changed, with Harper getting round-the-clock RCMP protection; the RCMP stay with him constantly.

Uniformed RCMP officers also have to turn in their service weapons when they enter the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

It may not be possible for the RCMP to take over security on the Hill, however — parliamentary privilege dictates a separate police force for the buildings on the Hill because it exists in a legal netherworld. Parliament is its own separate and sovereign jurisdiction.​

The House of Commons referred to having to update its radio communications in a report on the strategic objectives for the current parliamentary session.

'Jurisdictional issue has not been resolved'

"The House administration will play a lead role in overseeing the planning, design and implementation of technology services and network and other telecommunication infrastructures, including the modernization of the integrated security system and the radio communication system," the report said.

Ferguson pointed out in a June, 2012 auditor general's report to House of Commons administration that one problem arose in 2009 when activists scaled the exterior of West Block.

"Subsequent analysis revealed that the House of Commons security services’ mandate covered the area inside buildings under its jurisdiction and the RCMP’s mandate covered the grounds, but no organization had a clear mandate for the roofs of the buildings," Ferguson wrote in his report.

"The Parliamentary precinct security partners have recently agreed on operational procedures for joint responses to future intrusions that occur within each other’s jurisdiction. However, the jurisdictional issue has not been resolved."

The question of who is responsible for the security of Parliamentary roofs also remained unresolved, he noted.

"The security partners have developed their co-ordination and communications through the Master Security Plan. A next step could be to unify the security forces for Parliament Hill under a single point of command, making it possible to respond to situations more efficiently and effectively."

The Board of Internal Economy, the committee of MPs that administers House budgets and related matters, formed a subcommittee a few months before Ferguson's report to deal with security in the parliamentary precinct.

Security on the Hill has been stepped up over the years, including closing off part of the stone wall that runs along Wellington Street and installing barriers to prevent unauthorized vehicles from entering. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the gunman killed after shooting Cirillo and attacking Parliament Hill, parked his car on Wellington just past the first blocked-off driveway. He ran onto the Hill and hijacked the car of a cabinet minister to continue to the main entrance to Centre Block, just under the Peace Tower.

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