OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. David Johnston rejects the notion that the country was fundamentally changed by the attacks that killed two Canadian military members a year ago.
While that may be true, there was certainly evidence of changes, some small, others gapingly vast, as Canadians gathered Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the deadly Parliament Hill attack that killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.
"Today, I cannot help but think of his boy," said Marcela Coquet, from behind the counter of her downtown Ottawa souvenir store, a block from the National War Memorial.
"How is he growing up, without his dad?"
One year ago, Coquet heard the shots ring out through the open door of her shop. Later, she learned they had killed the father of Marcus Cirillo, now six, who joined the soldiers, veterans, dignitaries and hundreds of ordinary citizens at Thursday's memorial.
Johnston told those gathered that the police officers, first responders and citizens who raced to help with such bravery and compassion to the killings of the two Canadian military members exemplified the best of what Canada is.
"I don't think Canada changed forever," he said. "Canadians are a caring and a courageous people. This is who we are and that will not change."
He paid tribute to the sacrifice of Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was killed two days earlier by an attacker in the Quebec community of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
"Warrant Officer Vincent and Cpl. Cirillo stood up for our democratic values of tolerance, of diversity, of equality, of fairness and of the rule of law, by which I mean the constant, relentless pursuit of justice.
"This is who we are."
Johnston was joined by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, Harper's designated successor. Less than a week ago, Harper and Trudeau were hurling hard, political attacks at each other. On Thursday, they were holding opposite sides of a wreath, as they walked together in silence to place it before the monument.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney noted the symbolism of the moment, saying "our nation is coming together." Re-elected Monday and headed for the opposition benches, Blaney said he has a "profound sense of mission accomplished" after a year of leading the Conservative government's response to the attacks, including a controversial anti-terror law that faces Liberal amendments.
Newly elected Liberal MP Catherine McKenna, who now represents the Ottawa Centre riding where the Oct. 22 events took place, said it was great to see Harper and Trudeau carrying the same wreath.
"We need to come together probably better, generally," she said. "It sends a really good sign."
The memorial began with a 21-gun salute that boomed across downtown Ottawa.
Lesley Warren, of Ottawa, was concerned that her nine-month-old son, Andrew, resting comfortably in the stroller she was pushing, would find the shots alarming. But she felt compelled to attend.
One year ago, while Warren's husband was out of the country on a business trip, her young family, like so many others, was caught up in the chaos of the day.
Her two-year-old daughter, Emily, was on an outing in downtown Ottawa with her daycare when Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot 24-year-old Cirillo in the back at the war memorial and then bolted across the street to Parliament Hill, where he was gunned down in a hail of bullets, including from the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons.
Downtown Ottawa was plunged into a day-long lockdown amid persistent — and ultimately false — rumours that multiple shooters might be on the loose.
"They came for a walk and she ended up in lockdown at City Hall while I was pregnant with my son," Warren recalled.
"It was a lot of pressure to deal with, but when you compare that pressure to what the families of the fallen soldiers felt, it can't even compare. There are no words to express what these people do for the country."
Four CF-18 fighter jets tore overhead in a tribute to that sacrifice, three breaking eastward in formation, while the fourth shot off alone into the western sky. It was a profound moment for Vincent's sisters, Louise and Elisabeth.
"The 'Missing Man Formation' — oh my gosh, this is hard. We had this at his funeral with helicopters, now we have CF-18s today. That's difficult because, obviously. It's him leaving," Louise said.
Gone, perhaps, but never forgotten, especially in the hearts of people like 69-year-old Jim Nesrallah, who polished his medals and donned his old uniform once more on Thursday.
"We're here because of two men," said Nesrallah, retired from the navy.
"It never leaves you — the comradeship."
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