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Policing roles on Hill divided Four units

National Post - October 23, 2014

By Gordon Isfeld

Outside of the usual heated political rancour, the image of Parliament Hill is one of tranquillity amid a historic setting in the nation's capital.

But when it comes to the security of lawmakers, staff and the public, it is a house divided.

On any given day, the structures and grounds in and around the Parliament buildings are guarded by four separate security units.

There's an RCMP detachment responsible for safeguarding the grounds of Parliament Hill, but its responsibility ends at the front door of each building. Once inside, security falls to separate personnel: House of Commons Security Services and the Senate Protective Service - responsible for the Centre and East blocks of buildings related to those elected and appointed bodies.

Then there's the Ottawa Police Service, charged with guarding the streets around Parliament Hill - Wellington Street, in particular, which runs directly in front of the Hill.

Despite the presence of those units, an armed man on Wednesday was still able to gun down and kill one of the two military guards who are regularly posted in front of the National War Memorial on the south side of Wellington - only a few steps from the Hill - and then run into the Centre Block of Parliament, where he was later shot dead by security forces.

Many members of the Hill's security forces carry weapons, but not those assigned to the Senate. That was supposed to change after a Senate committee report in June recommended the upper chamber "deploy armed, uniformed personnel ... in the coming months."

Now, "it has been approved," said Senator Colin Kenny, one of the longest-sitting members of the chamber. "My impression was that it was supposed to go ahead this fall. My guess is that it's going to go ahead real fast now," he said in an interview. "[But] I think training is a big deal for something like this. If it takes a little while to work that out, that's OK by me."

Two years ago, the issue of arming Senate security personnel prompted a special report by Michael Ferguson, Canada's auditor general.

Mr. Ferguson noted Senate security "does not have the same response capacity as security officers of the House of Commons and the RCMP, who carry weapons." As a result, the Senate would have to request the other two security units to come to their aid in the case of an emergency.

Norman Inkster, a former RCMP commissioner, cautioned that "we need to recognize that Parliament Hill is accessible to the public."

"They can walk in and walk around. That's one of the real benefits of a society like ours," he told CTV. "It's not difficult, therefore, for someone to sneak in without notice."

However, he added, "They're going to change that."