POLITICS

Sentries At National War Memorial Endured Abuse, Disrespect

04/09/2015 05:00 EDT | Updated 06/08/2015 05:59 EDT

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and his fellow sentries at the National War Memorial were no mere figureheads, posted in crisp uniforms at the downtown Ottawa monument for the benefit of tourists.

They sometimes had to deal with loud drunks, boorish visitors, pushy parents, roving vandals, torrential downpours and sweltering heat, all the while keeping their cool, their calm and their dignity.

Daily duty reports written in the weeks leading up to the tragic shooting death of Cirillo on Oct. 22 last year show that standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier could be challenging — even abusive — for dutiful young reservists.

"A couple of disrespectful comments such as 'real soldiers don't need weapons' and 'this is stupid, standing there for no real reason, they can't move anyway … so F*&% them,'" says one report.

One day, the sentries arrived to find the tomb had been defiled overnight, a stubborn stain still visible in the morning light.

"It was reported by a security guard that 4-5 men were on the tomb drunk the night prior," says a report. "The stain is going to be polished out by someone in one of the following mornings."

Sentries have been posted at the tomb since 2007 after an incident in which three young men urinated on the monument the year before.

The sentries resume duties today and continue to Remembrance Day, Nov. 11.

One day in September last year, the logs show, a father told his daughter to climb onto the tomb to pose for a keepsake photo, a disrespectful act.

"Had to ask a father and his daughter to leave the premise," says the entry for that day. "She sat on the tomb, I asked her to come off … as I turned away, I saw her father directing her to get on top of the tomb for a picture … I politely and firmly instructed him to take his daughter and leave plaza square."

On another occasion — a cold, drizzly day — an annoyed visitor took pictures of the rain-soaked sentries and demanded to know why they were not provided with proper clothing, including rain gear.

"He proceeded to lecture me on the how the government should be providing adequate kit for the soldiers standing sentry and that they should not suffer the downfall of our government's lack of preparation."

Heated argument

Another entry tells of harassment by a passerby with overactive vocal cords.

"The police showed up looking for the opera singing guy mentioned in one of my earlier reports, apparently he's wanted for disturbing the peace."

A spokeswoman for the military says the public, for the most part, has been respectful.

"There have been periods where disrespectful behaviour has been observed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier," said Maj. Bonnie Golbeck. "These incidents are minor and infrequent."

Sentry duty at the tomb always includes two guards and a third person, known as a "posting" guard, watching over them and interacting with tourists. The daily reports are written by a fourth person supervising the other three.

Cirillo, 24, had arrived from his Hamilton home to begin five days of training in Ottawa as a sentry on Thanksgiving Monday, which was reported as "quiet" in the log entry.

Military sentry-training materials show Cirillo and his fellow reservists were warned about potential trouble from visitors and others.

"If someone blatantly disrespects the Tomb, the sentry should port arms and firmly but respectfully inform the person to 'respect the tomb.' … Nothing prevents a sentry from using self-defence in the face of a physical threat!"

"Port arms" is a position in which the sentry's unloaded rifle is held diagonally in front of the body with the muzzle pointing up to the left.

The training manual advises sentries to call 911 if they're unable to stop problem behaviour.

Cirillo's first sentry duty was on Sunday, Oct. 19, when he did two afternoon shifts as "junior sentry," one hour each, with his high-school buddy Cpl. Branden Stevenson taking the "senior sentry" position, on the west side of the tomb, on both occasions.

Two days later, Oct. 21, the log shows the pair were initially slotted into those same positions, but for some reason traded spots, Cirillo taking the "senior sentry" position for the two morning shifts he worked with Stevenson. Maj. Golbeck says trading places is "not at all unusual."

Sentry duties resume

And on the tragic morning of Oct. 22, the pair were in those same positions, Cirillo as senior sentry on the west side. It was only the third day — and the fifth shift — Cirillo had stood guard at the National War Memorial.

He was shot by a gunman who darted from the scene and made his way inside the Centre Block of Parliament, where he died in a hail of bullets.

The terse log entry for that black day is simple and direct: "Cpl Cirillo shot while guarding the tomb. Duties cancelled for remainder of day. Lockdown initiated."

There is no entry for Oct. 23, a day Canada mourned.

Cpl. Stevenson has returned to ceremonial guard duties in the Ottawa area for the coming season, at his request, but will not be standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He has declined all interviews.

When sentry duties at the tomb resume today, there will be Ottawa police officers providing protection, with the military paying the $425,000 cost for the season. The sentries' weapons will continue to carry no ammunition.

CBC News obtained log entries and related material from National Defence under the Access to Information Act.

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