Now that Canada Day weekend has passed and the greatest birthday party in 150 years is over, I thought it to be interesting to have a look back at today’s society and our reaction to the security effort before and after such a gigantic undertaking of a party.
It’s no secret to anyone that the world we live in today has evolved very quickly with escalating security implications (particularly since 9/11) and the world’s response to various conflicts and geo-political movements that we have all witnessed on the news. Increasingly, and most recently with the current middle east faction (no names here, sorry), we in the west have seen many small incidents, *(see note) mostly in European countries, and the terror that they’ve inflicted on the populations of both the targeted and potentially targeted cities. Noting a recent change of tactic to vehicular weapon use, the need for continued vigilance and adaptation to these threats is no more evident than it was this past weekend for the Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill.
The choice of publicly broadcasting the security measures was a choice made at the highest of levels of event coordination. With local TV news, such as CTV, discussing the security measures on the daily news cast, people were well informed of the heightened security and what to expect, and not expect, when visiting the hill for the weekend. Public safety was the top priority so most security measures were forced down the throats of the news audience regardless of whether they are local citizens or tourists, to ensure that everyone knew the precautions being taken. As days passed by, leading up to Canada Day, and as the event grew nearer, more and more details were being released to prepare visitors to Parliament Hill as to what to expect including what was not permitted within the secure zone around Parliament Hill. Typically, as a massive festival city, residents in Ottawa have become increasingly used to having bags checked for alcohol, drugs and weapons but the message of further checks was necessary. Items not normally restricted at events but were on the list for Parliament Hill were tri-pods (all sizes), aerosol cans such as sun screen, any and all sized sharp items including a small nail kit (as I witnessed someone unsuccessfully attempting to bring in) and multi-person camp chairs.
I decided to write this post as I was strangely entertained each day leading up to the birthday bash by the opinions of various people and what they thought about the heightened security. It truly was a mixed bag of reactions, expectations and conspiracy theories. I heard one person suggesting that security will be so tight with the land barriers and the unseen snipers that “obviously the attack will come from the sewage system”, where anyone can access the hill and simply pop-up with a bag of explosives. What this individual wasn’t aware of is that, Splinter and Ninja Turtles had been hired to take care of the sewers and not even the mighty Shredder and his foot clan would be able to get through. That was the only true “plan of attack” theory that I had heard, but knowing people in general, I’m sure there were some great detailed plans depicting how the great attack may occur. I’d be curious to hear your stories if you want to reply/comment on this post. However, most people I’ve talked to are either supporting one side or the other, and not much in the middle, regarding the security implications. Many people were just avoiding the area for a couple main reasons; either to avoid the crowds or to stay safe and secure in a far away cottage or campsite. Regarding the crowd avoidance, I can’t say that I blame them. I’m a pretty huge fan of cottaging (yes it’s a verb) and camping, so that seems pretty reasonable to me. Other people simply are unfazed by the additional security and see the situation as low risk and I was happy to hear that a lot of people simply didn’t concern themselves with the threats of terror. I myself feel the same way, and will refuse to alter my life plans as I’m a firm believer that once we start changing the ways in which we spend our lives, once we start avoiding things that make us happy and once we live in a state of fear, the terrorists that are creating this state of life, have won. There doesn’t need to be an attack at Parliament Hill in order to have our lives disrupted, they are already disrupted. Just ask the people who stood in a security check point line for five hours. There’s a fine line between being unsafe and overwhelmingly cautious, and if anyone, anywhere can ever find that line successfully, they deserve an award….really ANY award….or ALL of the awards for that matter, because that is a societal equation that will likely never have an answer.
Now, with that being said, I personally did not attend Parliament Hill on Canada Day for the simple reason as having too much planned for one day. I realized that the crowds would prevent me from making efficient use of my time when the radio was announcing a three hour wait to get through the security check points (I heard many reports between 2 and 8 hours). I felt there were better ways to spend my day. However, I did get down to the area on the 2nd for We Day. I was very impressed at the show of force in place to dissuade any security threats. Clearly the RCMP had the lead with overall event command, but were backed up by a small army of other police forces, particularily the OPP, and private agencies, led by Parliament Protection Services, Toersa, Iron Horse and Guarda security. The funny thing is that I didn’t see the OPS in high numbers. They were occasionally seen walking around maybe with a volunteer Auxiliary officer with them, but on the inside of the security check points, there were not very many to be seen. With that being said, I have no doubt that they operated as the first layer of defence on the outer perimeter of the event, and likely were responsible for the road blocks and closures prior to the check points. Oh yeah….and the rest of the entire city!!! OPS are incredible and I have the utmost respect for our home police force, I assume it was part of the greater jurisdictional plan for the entire weekend.
The check point at the Elgin Street entrance was quite an undertaking with 50+ lines of dedicated security to complete the bag checks and wand/pat downs. It was an incredibly efficient and thorough operation. I heard several comments from people saying that they feel secure and are happy that the security personnel were doing such an amazing job to keep them safe. Surprisingly, I didn’t once hear anyone complain about the bag checks, people seem to finally get it! As with any event, nothing is perfect, and I heard stories of people waiting hours on Canada Day in a line that went “nowhere”. I would also like to hear more details on that from any readers, but from my understanding, there was a crowd control line set up that simply ended so people were herded into this area with nowhere to go. This Elgin street entrance was the bigger of two locations to enter the area and each was run with the same concept of bag and scanning checks. Once through the check points and inside the event area, there were teams of police on every corner of every building and there was a steady flow of private security personnel going to and from the command centre, presumably for breaks and shift changes, and there wasn’t anywhere you could look and not be reminded of the security in place. Also, as many in the media world liked to remind us, “that’s only the measures that you can see.” This kind of security isn’t cheap. The government must have had a HUGE bank-roll for this event that I’m sure only an ATIP would bring to light. With the major Canadian media outlets salivating for non-Donald Trump stories lately, I’m sure that dollar figure will come out in the next 2-3 months. As I saw these security measures first hand, I’m looking forward to seeing the bill and how much further in debt we are as a nation because of it…oops, did my political views slip out a bit?
At the end of We Day, once the monsoon hit the city and the crowds cleared our prematurely, the RCMP event commander made the decision to shut down the celebration as the weather was not letting up, and the only people left along Wellington was the small army of police and security. It was literally washed out about two hours early. The RCMP reported at this time that the diligence done by the check points created a safe atmosphere that had no incidents, no bombs discovered, no explosives, no fire arms, and not even a single stabbing to have occurred in the secure zone. It was a total success due to the massive, no doubt unaffordable, security presence.
Happy Canada Day everyone! Hopefully Independence Day can have the same response.
* I use the phrase “small incidents” as a comparison to larger wars typically found in state to state conflict. These small incidents that I’m referring to are simply one/two individuals creating chaos by a one-time event (as opposed to a continued steady state conflict), and is not used as a descriptor of the level of death, destruction and dismay caused by such an event. I by no means want to downplay the significance of any of the terror attacks that we’ve witnessed over the past several years, including the attack here in Ottawa.
**Photo from “The Star”