Today we’re pleased to welcome seasoned political journalist and editor Ian King to the Cryptosphere. His debut is this portrait of quiet Canadian hero Kevin Vickers, who took down Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, the would-be jihadi and crack addict who’d invaded Parliament and murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo.
It was unlikely at first blush. When a lone gunman went to Parliament Hill in Ottawa, shot and killed an unarmed war memorial guard named Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, then went looking for more targets, he was taken down by the Sergeant-at-Arms, one Kevin Vickers.
The same person who ushered in the Speaker at the start of a Parliamentary day, dealt with unruly spectators, and participated in ceremony was also a crack policeman who performed to the highest standards or bravery, professionalism and duty.
Who is this guy? A 58 year-old former RCMP inspector who’d been the Parliamentary security chief since 2006.
The job’s not all pomp and protocol. That can be learned quickly. Decades of experience in tense situations and target rich environments take, well, decades.
Vickers is from Miramichi, New Brunswick. A province where English meets French meets First Nations meets economic stagnation. He comes from a law enforcement family. His uncle Benny was the RCMP chief in Blacks Harbour, best known for its sardine cannery. That alone can only say so much about the man, as can the fact that he’d worked across Canada in 30 years.
But Vickers had shown that he could handle a tough situation.
Flash back to 1999. Canada’s Supreme Court had ruled that First Nations fishermen could catch out of season in order to establish a “modest livelihood.” That set off a years-long standoff between non-native and Mi’kmaq fishermen in Burnt Church, N.B., over the province’s most valuable catch: lobster.
A mix of racial tension, people concerned about earning their livings, and independent-minded souls who weren’t above violence either way. It could have gotten far worse than the rare firing of shots, occasional arrests, and frequent protests and counter-protests.
Then-Inspector Vickers gets credit for keeping a hot situation cool. As the Mounties’ commanding officer, he walked the docks, heard out every white fisherman he could, then made his way to the rez to hear out the Mi’kmaq, emboldened by a court ruling and often distrustful of the Crown. And then back, and forth.
He kept watch over the crisis for over a year.
Leave it to Burnt Church band constable Bobby Sylliboy, who told the National Post:
“We sure missed him around here when he left… He was a professional. And for him to use force, it would have had to have been life or death.”
It was life and death last week in Ottawa. And so it was a former RCMP officer who’d never fired his weapon in 30 years with the Mounties, nor in eight years at Parliament, shooting to kill. Read the full account from the CBC in Ottawa, one of security springing to action competently, and being able to tell the ruling Conservative party caucus these words,
“I engaged the suspect and the suspect is deceased”
He reloaded his sidearm and continued to help secure the hill. Only when Vickers was assured that the situation was under control did he stand down.
While Canadian commentators were quick to ponder about balancing liberty and security, it turns out that in Vickers, there’s a very powerful voice who understands the need to respect personal freedoms.
Vickers made it clear that access to Parliament Hill was part of the Canadian tradition, regardless of race or religion. The thousands of people working on and around the Hill. While the xenophobic Quebec provincial government of 2011 banned the kirpan, the Sikh ceremonial dagger, from its grounds, Vickers made it clear he would not follow suit.
“I told them that if they made me their sergeant-at-arms, there would be no walls built around Canada’s Parliamentary buildings… and the fact that you may wear your kirpans within the House of Commons, proves there are no walls around Parliament and I have kept my promise.”
While the government may push for extremely restricted access to the Hill, its security chief’s words suggest he’ll be a valuable counterweight to a paranoid ruling party.
In 2013, he went personally to meet with Idle No More protestors in Ottawa, symbolically exchanged tobacco with them, and let them know that he took their concerns seriously. Did it help keep those demonstrations peaceful? It sure didn’t hurt.
The takeaway from Vickers’s track record including his performance last week are important. Engage the community you’re policing. Listen to their concerns and be ready to wear out a lot of show leather. Respect cultures that may not be your own; it’s a great way to avoid lines of communication and intelligence being blocked. Stay trained, focussed, and ready for an unlikely situation lest it actually happen.
Finally, don’t start shooting lightly. But when you do, shoot to kill.
Featured Image via BBC News on Twitter
Ian King’s on-again, off-again journalism career has careened up and down the Canadian province of British Columbia. While he started writing in Prince George, he’s best known in Vancouver as the former news editor at the legendary Terminal City Weekly. After that paper folded, he was 24 Hours’s man at Vancouver City Hall and wrote a much-lauded and often-despised political column. Following yet another round of layoffs and the frustrations of freelancing, he went north to Fort St. John, where he now works on control systems in the gas fields. This occupation helps satisfy his wanderlust and exposes his to all sorts of odd techogizmos. Once in a while, he ends up writing again; in this case, about himself in the third person.
Despite being recruited to contribute to The Cryptosphere, he still considers himself a washed-up hack.