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Under Attack, Our Leadership Failed Us

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo (foreground) standing to post at the National War Museum

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo (foreground) standing to post at the National War Museum

Yesterday morning at 9:52, a lone gunman fatally shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo as he was standing to post at the National War Memorial. Three blocks away, my wife Maggie had just left her office to make a presentation in a building across the street from Parliament Hill. As she took the elevator she, along with tens of thousands of other civil servants, had no idea what was about to be unleashed.

After shooting Mr. Cirillo the gunman, now identified as Michael Zehaf Bibeau, left the memorial to drive the short distance to Parliament Hill. He abandoned his car in a no parking zone on Wellington St. directly in front of the Parliament Buildings. Carrying a rifle, he walked from his car  onto Parliament Hill where he commandeered a car and drove to the centre block of the Parliament Buildings. Pursued bu the RCMP entered the building walking through the rotunda where he started shooting as he worked his way toward the Parliamentary library.  A few moments later, he was dead, shot by Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers who met his responsibility to protect the institution and its members.


It was during the shooting that the Canadian government in Ottawa, as well as much of the downtown core, went into lockdown and like countless others, I lost contact with my wife, her daughter and a dozen other members of our family.

There was no information available from our government about their security. Like everyone else, I was left with nothing but ongoing media coverage, often scant at times, to try to get some reassurance that Maggie and family members were and would continue to be safe.

Today, on the day after, many questions about security need, and have already begun, to be asked but the most obvious question to me is glaring.

Where was our political leadership yesterday?

While government employees were concerned for their security; while their families worried about the safety of their wives, husbands, daughters and sons; as the Prime Minister’s own office staff hid under their desks, the Prime Minister of Canada remained silent after allowing his personal security detail to whisk him to safety.

There was as deafening a silence from Canada’s Public Safety Minister, the Honourable Steven Blaney, the man to whom the same RCMP risking their lives on Parliament Hill report. Likewise the Minister of National Defense, the Honourable Rob Nicholson had nothing to say even though it was a member of the military reserve who was shot and killed. Their lack of leadership tarnishes the very meaning of the word honourable.

Nobody expects government to be able to absolutely prevent every possible threat from occurring but it is beyond reasonable to expect that the people responsible for this country’s national security should be standing publicly to provide reassurance to Canadians and showing confidence and determination to our enemies.

That is not what happened.

As Parliamentary day care providers worked to keep the children in their care calm and safe; the government was silent. Stephen Harper was evacuated to safety immediately after the attack began – children were left on Parliament Hill during the entire ten hour crisis.

The only communication provided to Canadians by their government during the entire day came in the form of a standard situational statement from Jason MacDonald in the PMO and later from Jason Kenney who tweeted that Cpl. Cirillo had died from his wound.

That was it. That is all the  leadership provided to anxious Canadians by Stephen Harper’s government: a brief statement from his Chief of Staff and a tweet from a cabinet minister.

It wasn’t until four hours had passed; almost two full hours after the American government had addressed its people on the Canadian attack, that law enforcement officials held a press conference. It offered little information and less reassurance to an apprehensive and anxious city. It was just one more exercise in banal politically careful talking points.

The Prime Minister of Canada did not address the nation until after 8:00 pm later in the day. It is the first time in his eight years as Prime Minister that Stephen Harper has addressed Canadians outside of press conferences, interviews and election speeches. He was ten hours late and more than a dollar short.

This is what the Harper government and its supporters call leadership. It is a government that was nowhere to be found when Canadians needed it to demonstrate it was in control, unafraid and that public safety would and was being maintained. Instead we were provided conflicting reports in the media and no information from the Prime Minister and his key cabinet ministers.

Appearing before the cameras to condemn the attack and to announce that you are committed to keeping Canada safe, long after the attacker has been killed and the crisis ended, is the worst kind of political redundancy and failed leadership. It left many believing that the government was more focused on waiting to get the messaging right than it was on providing leadership in a time of national crisis.

It is more than just a little reminiscent of the invisible leadership provided to Americans by the Obama administration while the American mission in Benghazi was under attack for nine hours.

Even though nobody knew the full extent of what might be happening or who might be at risk, Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal Premier of Ontario, who is much-hated by conservatives, showed more leadership. She united her legislature by reaching out to get the agreement of the opposition parties to conduct business as usual.

“I have spoken with the leaders of the Opposition parties, our belief is that people who are using violence to undermine democracy want us to be silenced. And we refuse to be silenced,” – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne

It is the kind of public statement one would have hoped to hear from Canada’s Prime Minister as the chaotic events unfolded.

I am anything but a fan of Wynne but I respect her for the action she took with her colleagues in the other parties. The united Ontario legislature, sought to demonstrate with action during the uncertainty and confusion of the situation, the words that Stephen Harper delivered by rote after the fact.

Almost immediately, partisan conservative trolls attacked Wynne for taking the stand she took while others engaged in Islam-bashing and a few used the crisis as an opportunity to criticize Justin Trudeau who had nothing to do with what happened yesterday. Is this really the best that the Harper government and its most slavish supporters have to offer Canada? Is this really what they believe will make Canada a better, a stronger and a safer nation?

This government was not prepared. It cut budgets for national security, the RCMP and public safety in order to bring in a budget surplus that would allow it to hand out goodies to voters before the next election. It is a government that having slashed defense spending nonetheless sent Canadians to war. It is a government that had ample warning of a potential terrorist threat and that had raised the threat level earlier this week.

How is it possible for someone who considers himself a world leader to refuse to be visible with demonstrated confidence and resolve in the face of such situation? One can’t imagine Winston Churchill or Margaret Thatcher or even Brian Mulroney being invisible and silent as their nations fell under attack.

Stephen Harper loves to use the phrase: “we stand with….” and he used it again last night. They are hollow, empty words, written for him by a speech writer. When he was called on to stand with his colleagues in Parliament, the civil servants who serve his government and even his own staff, Stephen Harper was nowhere to be found.

Silent. Invisible – a leader unwilling to do what leadership demands.

First responders showed great courage and determination, putting the safety of others ahead of their own. Ottawa citizens rushed to provide CPR and what assistance they could to Cpl. Cirillo as he lay on the ground and across the city civil servants and countless other citizens tried to do whatever they could to get information out to loved ones that they were safe. People in lockdown helped each other in countless small ways and worked together as they reached out to reassure others that the situation would be safely resolved.

Canadians from all walks of life, all political ideologies, religions and cultures, with the exception of their Prime Minister and his key Cabinet Ministers stood in solidarity yesterday. The political leadership that presents itself as fearless, tireless leaders refused to lead.

Ultimately, the buck stops on the Prime Minister’s desk. It is his responsibility to ensure that every part of our security establishment is properly funded, staffed and equipped to maintain public safety and it is the Prime Minister who is accountable when the government fails to meet these responsibilities . It falls to the Prime Minister to visibly lead when the nation is threatened but as his ‘fellow Canadians’ scrambled, he was missing in action.

When we were attacked yesterday, we didn’t get leadership; we didn’t even get courageous words like those being thrown around today. We got nothing but silence from Canada’s government until after the crisis had passed.

Canada deserves better than it got from Stephen Harper and his government yesterday. Canada must have better to remain safe, to remain secure and above all else, to remain a free and vibrant democracy.


© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

all rights reserved The written content of this article is the sole property of Maggie’s Bear but a link to it may be shared by those who think it might be of interest to others

Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear  – ivmaki@sympatico.ca


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  • New Centurion

    I’m not really sure what you expected the PM to do during the crisis. I think this need to apprised and updated instantly is the by-product of our growing dependence on instant messaging, twitter and big 24 hour news media. I think everyone handled themselves pretty well.

    • MaggiesBear

      At the very least, he or his Public Safety Minister could have gone before the cameras to inform Canadians that a) the government was in control and working to protect our institutions and our people and b) that government buildings were in lockdown and civil servants were being sheltered safely in place. We shouldn’t have had to wait for hours to hear it indirectly from secondary sources.There were ordinary citizens doing more to try and keep others informed.

      • New Centurion

        Well security on the Hill never was very serious and It appears that the government didn’t prepare for a senario like this. If the big security fallback is the Parliamentary Sgt at Arms with a pistol, yeah, I think things will change. And even if there was ‘master plan” you know what happens to a good plan after the first shot is fired? It truns into a complete clusterf$%k. I’m sure there will be a thorough after action report, lessons learned and all that. Nontheless I’m willing to give all of the leaders the benefit of the doubt. The sitiuation was chaotic they didn’t know if there was more than one shooter. The politicians let the security professionals do their jobs,clear the area and ensure everyone was safe (and that takes time) before getting on the air and spewing out half of the story. I’m glad to hear that your wife is okay.

  • V103115

    While I understand your fears and frustrations, it’s my opinion that your opinion

    “When we were attacked yesterday, we didn’t
    get leadership; we didn’t even get courageous words like those being
    thrown around today. We got nothing but silence from Canada’s government
    until after the crisis had passed.” is way off base.

    Think back to September 11, 2001, when the US was thrown into chaos – leaders were hustled off into hiding because they did not know if they were still under attack or not. People were fearful, people wanted questions answered but, until there was something concrete coming from officials, why come until there’s something concrete to report.

    Would you condemn the President of the USA for not being available to make a statement from Air Force One? What about Dick Cheney in a secure bunker? Did it upset you that he wasn’t making statements? Were they “missing in action”

    Like President Bush after 9/11, Stephen Harper acted like a leader should act. He was under fire, literally. He followed the directions of his security detail and that picture of MP’s in their caucus room with chairs piled to the sky says it all. They were under fire, they were locked down and at that moment, were not quite available to assuage the public.

    The Prime Minister made a statement to Canada on Wednesday night, as did President Bush on the night of September 11th.. What more did you want or expect? All of the facts weren’t in, and what the Prime Minister said conveyed how devastated he was at the day’s events

    In the coming days and weeks, questions will be asked, investigations started and fingers pointed. That’s when we can all decide if things were done as they should have been done, not two days after, when we all still coming to terms with what happened on Wednesday.

    • Stan

      This was not the equivalent of 911,

      • MaggiesBear

        It’s easy to see that today but was less so on Wednesday as events were unfolding. It is because we didn’t know that we need our leaders to be visible.

      • V103115

        Maybe if you actually read what I wrote, you’d understand the point I was trying to convey, not what you think I said.

  • Frances

    A bit different with Benghazi: the President and Secretary of State stood down during the event, and then have consistently lied through their teeth about the cause afterwards.

    My spouse would agree with your anxiety, though. No 2 offspring and I flew through 9/11 en route to said offspring’s university in eastern Europe. Was accompanied by special friend of #1 offspring who was heading to Spain. Got to Heathrow, saw special friend off (somewhat illegally, we later determined) to Spain, and then settled down awaiting boarding to Prague flight. Saw flight up on screen just as heard young man say ‘a plane has crashed into the World Trade Centre’. Just then, flight departure gate came up and went there. That’s when we found out what had happened. Apparently, as we were landing at Heathrow, all hell was breaking loose in New York. Offspring went pale: realized thoughts were along the lines of “the world is coming to an end and I am travelling in the wrong direction”. Got to Prague, took taxi to b-and-b, had extreme difficulty getting into said b-and-b, but finally got there and could phone home. Spouse had been calling; according to #3 offspring, had not been a good day until we were finally in contact. This is, after all, the days before everyone carried cell phones. Finally got to destination by train, which was when we really found out what had happened. Left said offspring looking rather like Paddington Bear sans ticket as headed home.

    Postscript: said offspring did extremely well: first Canadian at that particular uni (which caused other issues with CRA) but topped the class while maintaining (to a certain extent) the modesty for which Canadians are justly renowned.

    • MaggiesBear

      I think you made my point. Obama and Clinton did stand down and I have written highly critical posts about it. As far as I can see, our leaders stood down yesterday so there isn’t much difference in my mind.

      I do agree with you about the impact 9.11 had on all of us though. It was a terrible day but I always admired how Canadians and Americans came together to stand strong. The one thing that continues to give me hope is that ‘the people’ always seem to respond better than our leaders.

      • paulsstuff .

        The outrage over Benghazi was Obama ignored the warnings from intelligence something was going down there BEFORE it happened. Trying to conflate that with what occurred in Ottawa is moronic. By the way, neither Mulclair nor Trudeau were visible until the evening either, the reason being all party leaders followed the instructions of the security details guarding them. Cell phone service was blocked to prevent their locations as possibly being compromised.

  • CanadaGoose1

    Didn’t know about the day care centre. But it seems to me no one knew if there were snipers in the vicinity. It reminded me of the Boston situation since we didn’t know if there were two or three other culprits at large and the city was at least partially locked down. I agree that the press conference was a master class in giving no information and I was embarrassed to see this display on Fox News.

    • MaggiesBear

      I have no issue with the lockdown yesterday. Considering the situation, I think it was the right course of action and I was relieved when I finally heard that Maggie was safe, locked in a building. Because civil servants were instructed not to use their email or phones, she had had no way of contacting me for more than five hours.

      I also believe that sheltering the children in place under guard was probably the wiser course of action.

      My issue is that our political leadership was conspicuous by its absence. The Prime Minister had left the building and was not heard from throughout the course of the day. Neither he nor any of his cabinet ministers directly involved provided any kind of reassurance or leadership.

      I seem to recall conservatives being outraged when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did pretty much the same thing while the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi came under attack. It was our turn and our leaders failed. We were fortunate to have had dedicated and professional security personnel and first responders on the scene to compensate for that failure.

      • bertie

        HE is after all the leader of the country.Security took precautions.What do you want him to do you idiot.Fight off his security and make statements to the friggin un-canadian press that they would make up and twist into their own lies.He commented when he had the facts,not before he had the facts.Get back into your Liberal haven where you find out every lie instantly.PM Harper acted like any leader would do and responded with necessary information when he received it.Don,t make up your Liberal BS about what should have would have and needed to be done.It was done and Canadians were made aware of what happened at the appropriate time.NOT LIBERAL BS time.

  • JoeFrmEdm

    Well Bear what are you doing at Blogging Tories when you they welcome at any Librano Site. Weren’t you paying attention yesterday?? Every one was in lock down, or maybe because your wife was inconvenienced that YOU should be updated every 5 min by no less then the PM….. Just like a Lieberal entitled to his entitlement’s..

    • MaggiesBear

      I’ll take your adolescent comment to mean that you don’t believe than a conservative should be permitted to think for themselves but rather should slavishly adhere to the party line. My wife was not inconvenienced as you put it, she was within shooting distance of what was happening on Parliament Hill and we had no idea as to whether or not she was safe. I appreciate that from your comfortable life that is untouched by the threat others faced yesterday that it all seems somewhat ho hum. It wasn’t and while I didn’t expect the PM or anyone else to provide five minute updates, I did expect some visibility, some leadership to reassure Canadians that the government was in control. If you are too clueless to understand that, it’s not my problem.

      • JoeFrmEdm

        Sorry you take it so hard I’m just saying that NO ONE had a clear picture of how things were unfolding, would you rather have speculation??

        • MaggiesBear

          That is my point. Because there was no leadership from this government, all we go was speculation from the media. Along with thousands of others in this city, I had no idea if my wife and other members of our family were safe in lockdown, injured or trapped somewhere under threat. Canadians had no idea how serious the attack was and there was a considerable amount of fear. It is precisely at times like these that real leaders stand with their citizens to reassure them that the government is in control and to define to whatever extent possible, the size and scope of the issue. Our leaders didn’t do that. They were invisible. Silent until well after the crisis had ended. Leaders lead, they don’t hide. I’m a conservative who is furious that a Prime Minister who claims to be a conservative could behave so shamefully.

          • JoeFrmEdm

            Why Don’t you understand the words “No one”

            • MaggiesBear

              Advising Canadians that they are in control of the situation and will provide more information if and when it comes available is the responsible course of action. Waiting until after the event to tell people what they already know is not. People need leadership when the situation is in chaos not when the killer has been killed and everyone has gone home.

              • TerrorSquad

                Leadership is not about talking to the press.

          • TerrorSquad

            I’m sorry you needed reassurance that our leaders were on this but most people just recognized that was the case.

    • Stan

      Harper hid in a closet during the event. Speaking of entitlements, I saw MP Laurie Hawn flying in first class on Air Canada last night.mi remember conservatives saying they would not fly first class or use limos or take gold plated pensions. Conservatives love their entitlements.

      • MaggiesBear

        I’m not going to comment on the closet issue. Few of us know how we might react in a similar circumstance. My issue remains that during the entire situation, our political leadership was silent when Canadians needed reassurance that it was in control.

        • charlie98

          based on police running around and the lockdown lasting for many hours the situation was, at best, fluid. under control took a while

          • Jane

            Ms Ditchburn reported the closet scenario with disdain as well, yet the Star calmly stated that it was advised for the PM to do it and that it lasted for only 15 minutes. Now it’s almost the bigger story and I suspect will remain so.
            I do agree that an earlier public appearance was warranted by the PM.