HAMILTON Ontario (Reuters) - Thousands of mourners packed a church and lined adjacent streets in industrial Hamilton, Ontario, on Tuesday for the funeral of the soldier shot dead in last week’s attack on the nation’s seat of government.
Corporal Nathan Cirillo, 24, was one of two soldiers killed in a pair of attacks last week that police said were carried out independently by radical recent converts to Islam. The assaults took place as Canada’s military was stepping up its involvement in air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told mourners at the church that Cirillo had inspired and united Canadians. He choked back tears in a rare public display of emotion when addressing Cirillo’s five-year-old son.
“May time ease the searing pain of today. And may his son, young Marcus Daniel Cirillo, some day find comfort in the fact that our entire country looks up to his dad with pride, with gratitude with deep abiding respect,” Harper said.
Major the Reverend Canon Rob Fead opened the ceremony calling Cirillo “Canada’s son”. Cirillo’s cousin, Jenny Holland, and Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence Hatfield, who had been his commanding officer, also spoke.
Dressed in ceremonial kilts, white boots and garters, members of Cirillo’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders unit took a prominent place in the ceremony, having marched alongside his flag-draped casket through the streets of Hamilton, and then carrying it into the 138-year-old gothic Christ’s Church Anglican Cathedral.
The killings shook Canadians and prompted a debate on how the nation’s open culture, and particularly the low-key security in its capital city of Ottawa, may need to change. Security services have warned that citizens who adopt extremist views and take up arms against the state pose a “serious” threat.
Cirillo was standing an unarmed, ceremonial watch at the nation’s war memorial in Ottawa on Oct. 22 when he was shot dead by a man described as troubled and drug addicted. His attacker then charged into the Parliament building and exchanged fire with security officers not far from a room where Harper was meeting with fellow Conservative lawmakers.
The aftermath of the attack has been felt as far away as London, where officials have deployed armed troops at the Horse Guards Parade, a popular attraction with tourists, according to a military source.
Cirillo’s was the first of two funerals for soldiers slain on Canadian soil, to be followed by a service on Saturday in Longueuil, Quebec, for Patrice Vincent, a 53-year-old warrant officer who was killed on Oct. 20 near Montreal, when a man ran over him and a fellow soldier with his car.
Nadia Grandoni, a 35-year-old administrative assistant and native of Hamilton, stood outside the church where Cirillo’s funeral was being held with a red poppy, the symbol of veterans’ remembrance, pinned to her vest.
“I was born here and even though I didn’t know Nathan, I feel like he was my brother,” Grandoni said. “He has done us proud. We love him, as a community and as a country. Both him and Patrice Vincent. Canada loves them both.”
Cirillo was buried in the Field of Honor at Woodland Cemetery in Hamilton.
A group of Canadians launched a fund for the families of Cirillo and Vincent, StandOnGuardFund.com, that has so far raised C$550,000 ($495,000).
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said Cirillo’s killer, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, made a video of himself before his attack saying he was motivated by his opposition to Canadian foreign policy. The RCMP said the video also showed he had religious motives.
Officials have also described Vincent’s killer, 25-year-old Martin Rouleau, as a man motivated by radical beliefs.
Both assailants were shot dead by security services.
Following Cirillo’s funeral, Harper was to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who traveled to Ottawa to express his condolences.
Kerry, who was on his first visit to Canada since becoming secretary of state last year, laid a wreath at the Ottawa memorial where Cirillo was killed, before meeting with Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
At a press conference, Kerry said the attack in Ottawa was clearly a terrorist attack: “Anybody who walks up in a premeditated way with a loaded rifle and attacks someone in uniform, then purposely goes to a parliament, is committing, by common sense standards, a terrorist act,” he said.
Writing by Richard Valdmanis and Scott Malone; Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Randall Palmer and David Brunstromm; Editing by Dan Grebler; and Peter Galloway