POLITICS

Parliament Hill Security Changes Subject To Committee Approval

02/05/2015 02:43 EST | Updated 04/07/2015 05:59 EDT
CP
OTTAWA - A historic change to the way security is handled on Parliament Hill will be determined in a time-honoured parliamentary manner: by committee.

The House of Commons and Senate are set to debate a motion this week that would give the RCMP the lead in running security operations on the Hill.

But what the new arrangements will look like in practice is unclear — even to the Mounties themselves.

"While I have been engaged in some preliminary discussions with officials, I must write to you today to caution that there are a lot of steps to be taken before this becomes a reality," RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson wrote in a memo to staff, obtained by The Canadian Press.

"More importantly, I must ask that we all refrain from speculating about what this may mean, or the form this may take."

Once the motion passes, a committee under the Speakers of the Commons and the Senate will determine how the process will work.

Who else will sit on the committee or what form their deliberations will take remains to be seen, though among the goals will be a new memorandum of understanding governing operations.

It was House of Commons guards who stopped a gunman on the morning of Oct. 22 after he ran past RCMP on the grounds of Parliament Hill and into the Centre Block, before dying in a gunfight.

The sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers, has been credited with firing the shots that killed Michael Zehaf Bibeau and Vickers was soon after appointed Canada's ambassador to Ireland.

His departure is seen as paving the way for a broader reorganization of security on the Hill, as it is not clear whether security staff would report in future to the sergeant-at-arms or to an RCMP deputy commissioner.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May said while she believes Vickers is qualified for the diplomatic post, the timing of his appointment was convenient for those seeking change.

"You cannot take over parliamentary security without some raising some serious questions about the independence of Parliament, so I find it really worrying," she said of the proposal.

"I do believe that if our sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers were here he would not let this happen."

There have been dedicated security teams for the House of Commons and the Senate since 1920, when a small team of officers was hived off from what became the RCMP.

But their powers were always limited to the buildings themselves, with the RCMP given control over the grounds.

The two sides have found themselves in conflict, most often during visits by high-profile politicians when tighter-than-normal security has meant MPs or senators had trouble getting through police cordons.

But they also work together. They hold daily conference calls and share intelligence and radio frequencies.

It was the RCMP who trained House of Commons guards to respond to an active shooter in the building, as they did on Oct. 22.

But the federal government said this week the co-operation has to go farther.

"Maintaining one force inside the Parliament Buildings and one force outside does not make sense," the government said in a document outlining the proposed motion.

"Therefore, the government supports full integration throughout the precinct under the operational leadership of the RCMP."

The changes come despite the fact independent police probes of the Oct. 22 events continue.

The day of the attack, the RCMP asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the events on the Hill resulting in Zehaf Bibeau's death. A week later, Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer asked the OPP to expand the investigation to include the actions of House security personnel.

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