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Boost firepower of Mounties guarding Parliament Hill, says senator

An RCMP officer carries an automatic weapon while patrolling on Parliament Hill. Assignment - 120836 Photo taken at 13:04 on June 3. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

An RCMP officer carries an automatic weapon while patrolling on Parliament Hill. Assignment – 120836 Photo taken at 13:04 on June 3. (Wayne Cuddington / Ottawa Citizen)

Boost firepower of Mounties guarding Parliament Hill, says senator

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen & Ian MacLeod,

Some RCMP officers guarding Parliament Hill against potential terrorist attacks should be armed with rifles similar to those carried by Canadian troops in Afghanistan, says Conservative senator Vern White, a former Mountie and ex-Ottawa police chief.

White said the Heckler & Koch MP5 9mm submachine-guns that reappeared recently in the hands of RCMP guards patrolling near Centre Block are useful in certain situations but don’t have the range to hit attackers farther out on the grounds of Parliament Hill near Wellington Street.

Police should instead be primarily equipped with the more powerful Colt C8 that chambers larger 5.56mm cartridges. The gun is popular with police tactical teams and Canadian and other NATO alliance troops. The MP5, too, is used by police and counter-terrorism units in more than 40 countries.

RCMP officers were originally issued the MP5 in 1986 for duty on Parliament Hill and for guarding embassies in Ottawa. But they were later removed after a series of embarrassing misfires, in which officers were wounded. The RCMP noted at the time that 9mm handguns being issued to officers would be as effective as the MP5s.

Both guns “have utilization up here (on the Hill) but of the two, the MP5 is useless on the grounds,” said White, who trained on both weapons during his police career. The MP5 has an effective range of about 50 metres, he said.

“We’re looking at about 175 metres from the top of the stairs (in front of Centre Block) to Wellington Street. You’re not hitting anybody with an MP-5,” if they’re entering the grounds at Wellington, as shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau did on Oct. 22, 2014.

“In that case, you have to hope they don’t have (a gun) strong enough to engage you until they’re close enough for you to engage them,” said White, who co-chairs a joint Commons-Senate security committee.

The RCMP is issuing more than 2,200 C8 carbines to its officers but it’s unclear at this point whether the weapons will be put in the hands of those guarding Parliament Hill.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told the House of Commons Public Safety committee last month that the force is in the process of issuing the high-powered weaponry.

“It’s rolled out on a purposefully risk-assessed framework that is being cautious around putting these – effectively – assault rifles into the hands of our police officers, recognizing that there’s a need for our officers to have that kind of arming, but with conditions, policies, and guidelines around the use of that,” Paulson explained. “That is progressing on schedule.”

The RCMP did not respond to questions Thursday about whether its officers on Parliament Hill will eventually be issued C8s. RCMP emergency response units already have the weapons. The force also was not able to provide details about the MP5 training Hill officers receive.

Ottawa police bought dozens of C8 carbines in 2006 – the short-barrelled close-quarters-combat version – and “they were fantastic – a great weapon,” said White.

His concerns about the lack of weaponry in police hands on Parliament Hill are not related specifically to Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack. White first raised the issue that Parliament Hill was not properly protected when he arrived at the Senate in 2012.

“We have police officers with guns protecting hockey games,” he said. “It just didn’t make sense to me what was happening here.”

MP5s were reissued to officers on Parliament Hill in 2010, after 19 Greenpeace activists climbed onto the roofs of the West Block and Centre Block and unfurled climate-change protest banners.

The firearms were reissued specifically to deal with any incident in which a gunman managed to get into Parliament Hill, the force said at the time. But the guns were kept out of sight in RCMP vehicles.

During Zehaf-Bibeau’s assault, at least four RCMP officers retrieved their MP5s, according to an OPP review of the security response to the incident. It does not appear that those guns were used in the wild shootout with Zehaf-Bibeau that followed inside the Hall of Honour.

Just days before the OPP review was released Thursday, RCMP officers started appearing in public, openly carrying MP5s on the Hill. The newly visible firepower has alarmed some parliamentarians, such as Senate Liberal Céline Hervieux-Payette, who has complained to the House of Commons and Senate Speakers’ offices.

“I’m afraid. I feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I hate to see someone with a machinegun.”

While they weren’t asked specifically about the submachine gun, several Conservative MPs said this week that they were happy with the visibly beefed-up security on the Hill.

NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison declined to comment on the RCMP’s choice of weaponry for Parliament Hill.

“I don’t think politicians are the ones to make those decisions. What our responsibility is is to make sure they have the structures in place to govern – the governance structures to take care of the security threats and that they have the resources they need to do the job.

“But on individual weapon decisions, I think that should be left to those who are in charge of the units.”

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