Canadian PM to seek more surveillance after Ottawa shootings

Stephen Harper insists country will not be intimidated by terrorist acts

Canada’s prime minister pledged yesterday to push for increased surveillance and detention powers for the police and intelligence services, the day after a shocking attack in which a man opened fire in Ottawa’s parliament.

Speaking just metres from where the gunman was himself killed, Stephen Harper called the attack an act of terrorism and insisted that Canada, which is preparing to take part in the new conflict in Iraq, would not be threatened.

“The objective of these attacks was to instil fear and panic in our country,” said Mr Harper, who was in the parliament building on Wednesday when the shooting spree began. “Canadians will not be intimidated. We will be vigilant, but we will not run scared.”

The swift return to business by the Canadian parliament, hours after a gunman shot and fatally wounded a soldier at Ottawa’s war memorial, was marked by low-key rhetoric that aimed to demonstrate a stoic resilience.


Standing ovation

The emotional high point was a standing ovation for

Kevin Vickers

, the sergeant-at-arms who shot the gunman.

On Monday, another soldier was killed near Montreal by Martin Couture-Rouleau, who Mr Harper later said had been "radicalised". Canadian media have reported that the Ottawa gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was a convert to Islam.

The killing of two soldiers in the space of three days by suspected terrorists has provided Canada with a stark reminder of the risks from homegrown jihadis.

Canadian investigators are still searching for any links between the two incidents or connections between the suspects and known terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The Islamic State has urged supporters to kill people in countries such as Canada that support the US-led coalition against the group.

Despite the display of parliamentary unity, yesterday’s attack widened already deep divisions in Canadian society over the country’s place in the world under Mr Harper, conservative prime minister since 2006.

Political differences

While Mr Harper emphasised the need for resolve,

Justin Trudeau

, leader of the opposition Liberal party, which is far more sceptical of the country’s close alignment with the US, said Canada should adhere more closely to its democratic, liberal values.

“We are a proud democracy, a welcoming and peaceful nation, and a country of open arms and open hearts,” he said. “We are a nation of fairness, justice, and the rule of law.”

Benoît Gomis, a Vancouver-based fellow of Chatham House, the international affairs think tank, said Canada now faced a debate over its global role. “Canada used to be the world leader in peacekeeping. But they’ve completely changed the strategy, aligning themselves with the US and Israel, which is obviously problematic for some people.”

Canadian police have estimated that about 30 people from the country are fighting for different jihadi groups in Syria’s civil war.

At the same time, about 90 people are being monitored at home because of suspected terrorist sympathies.

Both suspects in this week’s attacks had had their passports withdrawn, which suggests that they were already on the radar of the Canadian police. There are likely to be questions about whether they should have been under further surveillance.

With security emerging as a theme in this year's midterm elections in the US, there could be more calls in Washington to tighten procedures on the Canadian border. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014)