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Backpacks may pose security threat

Kingston Whig-Standard - October 23, 2014

By Sam Cooley

According to Sen. Colin Kenny, the only way to limit the possibility of explosives being transported to the Parliament Buildings is to stop people from carrying backpacks on the Hill.

The senator, who has been working on Parliament Hill for decades, sometimes as a security official, said that currently it is possible to carry enough explosives to take down the Peace Tower.

"Right now, the place where we inspect knapsacks is directly under the peace tower," he said.

The current system is like a security checkpoint seen at airports.

People typically have their possessions and person scanned and checked.

"If you had a suicide attack, you'd simply go in there, and that would be a place you could have an awful lot of damage."

The Whig-Standard reached Kenny on Wednesday in his home by telephone.

According to Kenny, his staff were locked up in the Parliament Buildings and instructed not to go anywhere until further notice.

"Folks aren't clear on how many people are involved in this," he added.

According to Kenny, security was searching room by room.

"The police want to make sure that somebody didn't duck into another room," he said.

Before being appointed senator, Kenny rose to a variety of positions in Ottawa.

When he was 27, Kenny was the operations director for Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, a role that emphasized the security of both Trudeau and those who visited him.

In his time, Kenny has seen many security breaches occur on the Hill.

"With each event (in the past) you see a change ... a change in behaviour. At the time, when I first came to the Hill, the protective staff weren't armed," he recalled. "Now some of them are."

Kenny said there's a proposal currently on the side of the House of Commons to arm all protective staff, but he said there are issues with staff, both old and new, "who can't shoot guns straight, or have emotional issues," he said.

"They're not going to fire everybody who's been working on the Hill just because they can't qualify (to shoot guns)," he said.

Historically, Kenny said, the number of protective staff at each door has increased, and that it's very unusual to find, "except during the dark hours," anything fewer than three people at each door.

He said he could clearly visualize the photo of the car that nearly drove up the stairs of Centre Block in 1997.

Since this time there have been numerous improvements to prevent all manner of buses, jeeps and cars from haphazardly entering the premises, such as bollards that stick out of the ground.

There is also the colloquially termed "carwash," said Kenny, that thoroughly scans all vehicles.