Canada wrestles with low-key security approach after attacks

Thu Oct 30, 2014 1:20am EDT
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By Randall Palmer, Richard Valdmanis and Scott Malone

OTTAWA/HAMILTON Ontario (Reuters) - Just over a week after an armed man charged into Canada's Parliament and fought a gun battle with guards as lawmakers were meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, there are few signs of increased security in the nation's capital.

Leading politicians and top officials can still be seen in the streets without any obvious protection. The visible new security measures at the Parliament building have been modest, and some have even been eased in recent days.

After telling lawmakers on Monday about the threat from homegrown extremists, Assistant Director for Intelligence Michael Peirce - one of Canada's top spies - stepped out of a parliamentary office building and onto an Ottawa sidewalk where he strolled several blocks protected only by his long overcoat and mirrored sunglasses. There were no bodyguards in sight.

Minutes later, Justin Trudeau, leader of the opposition Liberal Party and son of late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, passed by, also unencumbered by security detail.

In contrast, in Washington, D.C. senior officials spend much of their time cocooned in heavily secured government buildings and on the move they are often accompanied by armed guards.

There has been soul-searching in Canada about the nation's low-key approach to security after two soldiers were killed in the two attacks last week - the Ottawa assault and an earlier one outside Montreal.

Canadians are struggling with the need to better protect their leaders without creating such a fortress mentality that the public loses access to them. In Canada, where gun laws are much tighter than the United States, people are also wary of creating a gun-based society.

The low level of security surrounding politicians was demonstrated in August when an intruder broke into Trudeau's home while his wife and children were sleeping there. The intruder turned out to be a drunk 19-year-old who thought he was entering a friend's place and not the house of the Liberal leader and son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, but it underlined vulnerability.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 29, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie