VICTORIA - Guards at British Columbia's legislature will soon be packing pistols and wearing bullet-proof vests while members of the public will have to pass through an airport-like security screening area.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong said he believes the new security measures won't change the accessible, democratic atmosphere of the building.
De Jong is a member of the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee that approved a seven-point security package recommended by Gary Lenz, the legislature's sergeant-at-arms. Lenz conducted a security review in the wake of the recent Ottawa shootings.
"In this day and age, in light of some of what has happened over the past few weeks, the folks in charge of securing this place would like some additional tools to do that," de Jong said Thursday. "But the objective of maintaining this as a open and democratic institution of the people remains."
The approval means protective services staff who are designated as special provincial constables will be equipped and trained in the use of firearms.
Lenz told the committee that it is rare that a sergeant-at-arms would formally address the committee, but the shootings on Parliament Hill prompted a security review at the Victoria legislature that aimed to ensure a safe, but open environment.
"Part of the role of the sergeant-at-arms is to ensure that the members and staff can conduct their business at the legislature untethered and uninterrupted and to ensure that all those who work here are in a safe and secure environment," he said.
Lenz said he understood the need for a secure work place, but also one that is open and continues to convey the sense of freedom that is the hallmark of a democracy.
"British Columbia's (legislature) is a unique building. It's iconic," Lenz said. "It's a working place. It's a place for the public that we enjoy. It is the people's house."
Lenz said armed guards are needed at the legislature to meet any threat posed by someone with a weapon, and about 45 of 70 guards will receive the training.
"We're not like the House of Commons in Ottawa where we have police cars and police," said Lenz.
"We are what we have. If we have to wait five minutes or eight minutes or ten minutes for a response, that's a lifetime. What's required is to have an adequate presence here to deal with a threat immediately, as was done in Ottawa."
He said that the special provincial constables are primarily former police officers and will now be carrying firearms as part of their uniforms.
Premier Christy Clark said last month she supported a security review even though she feels safe at the buildings after the Ottawa shootings.
The committee also approved installing metal-detecting equipment at the front entrance of the legislature and supported the introduction of an airport-like security-screening area, through which all members of the public, including tour groups, will have to pass before entering the building.
MLA's and staff who work in the legislature will also receive training in active-shooter response.
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was killed while on guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa the morning of Oct. 22, before gunman Michael Zehaf Bibeau stormed onto Parliament Hill.
Zehaf Bibeau was shot dead in the Centre Block by Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons.
On Canada Day, two years ago at B.C.'s legislature, police arrested a man and woman in what authorities claim was a failed plot to plant an explosive device on the grounds. The couple has yet to face trial over the allegations.
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