Canadian PM Stephen Harper hid in store cupboard while gun battle went on nearby

That gunman got so close to Canadian prime minister raises security concerns

Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, hid in a storage cupboard while a gun battle ensued in a nearby hallway of the parliament building in Ottawa this week, it emerged yesterday.

Members of parliament and party leaders including Harper were meeting in the centre block of Parliament Hill when the attacker, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, stormed into the building at about 10am on Wednesday. Officers from the Royal Canadian Mountain Police (RMCP) trailed Zehaf-Bibeau as he rushed up the steps to the main entrance of the centre block.

As he entered the building, parliamentary security guards opened fire on Zehaf-Bibeau, a petty criminal with a history of mental health problems.

He was brandishing a 30-30, lever-action Winchester rifle that moments before he had used to kill Nathan Cirillo, an honour guard on duty at the nearby National War Memorial.


Meanwhile, Mr Harper was hiding in a storage closet just steps away from the Conservative caucus's meeting room, sources confirmed to the Globe and Mail newspaper yesterday. Mr Harper's security detail was not with him at the time.

The RMCP commissioner, Bob Paulson, said a “multitude of shots” were fired during the exchange. A guard was shot in the foot as the gunmen rushed through the hallway.

Engaged in gunfire

At some point

Kevin Vickers

, the house of commons sergeant-at-arms, emerged with a pistol he had retrieved from a lockbox. He engaged Zehaf-Bibeau as the pair of them darted behind pillars.

In the rapid exchange, the gunman was struck down. Mr Vickers is widely credited with preventing a further tragedy by rapidly engaging Zehaf-Bibeau, who was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr Vickers then rushed to ensure Mr Harper’s safety.

The RCMP commissioner said the exact details of the gun battle between Zehaf-Bibeau, parliamentary security guards and RCMP officers were still under investigation.

Shortly after the incident, Mr Harper was hustled out of the building to a secure location.

Some members of parliament said they were shocked when he climbed out of his modest hiding place, the Globe and Mail reported.

That a gunman made it so close to the prime minister and MPs has raised serious security concerns.

On Thursday Mr Paulson announced a change to the security detail to ensure the prime minister would not be placed in such a situation again.

“I can tell you that now we’ve adopted a condition where we will stay with the prime minister in the prime minister’s protective detail 24/7, no matter where he is,” he said.

Tougher laws

Meanwhile, Canada vowed yesterday to toughen laws against terrorism as an opinion poll showed a majority of Canadians lacked confidence in their security services’ ability to deter homegrown radicals who had struck twice in the past week.

Investigators said there was no apparent link between the two attackers, who killed a soldier each in Quebec and the capital Ottawa, but Canadians worried about the parallels.

Police said both assailants had been through a radicalisation, a term the government uses to refer to Canadians who become supporters of militant Islamic groups. Both attackers were shot dead.

Justice minister Peter MacKay said the government would act swiftly and go beyond the terms of a Bill already planned that would strengthen the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service spy agency.

"We're looking . . . to see if there is a way in fact to improve or build on those elements of the criminal code that allow for pre-emptive action, specifically in the area of terrorism," Mr MacKay told reporters in Brampton, Ontario. – (Guardian service/Reuters)