Canada shooting: How secure is nation's parliament building?

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Story highlights

  • The nation's seat of power has various layers of security jurisdictions
  • Canada is grappling with finding a balance between security and public access to the building
  • In the past two decades, it has intensified security in government buildings
Canada came to a standstill when a gunman killed a soldier outside a war memorial in Ottawa -- then stormed into parliament, sending lawmakers hiding behind barricaded doors.
The incident has raised a concern: how secure is the nation's seat of power.
A patchwork of jurisdictions
Unlike in the United States where the Capitol police is responsible for security at the U.S. Capitol, four different agencies are charged with ensuring the safety of various parts of the parliament building in Canada.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- the national police force -- covers the parliament grounds while a House security detail is in charge of buildings under the House jurisdiction. A Senate security detail is responsible for one area of the building while the Ottawa Police keeps an eye on the surrounding streets.
This could make communication a major challenge.
Two years ago, Canada's auditor general issued a report recommending a unified security force. It wasn't acted upon.
Communication breakdown?
Authorities investigating Wednesday's attack will likely look at why the security agencies at the parliament did not tighten security after Ottawa police received a 911 call at nearby National War Memorial.
It is there that Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed Nathan Cirillo, a reservist guarding a tomb for the country's fallen, injured two others and then headed for the parliament.
John Manley, a former deputy prime minister, said it's too early to make conclusions on whether there was a communication breakdown.
"In order to assess whether there was a failure of the security or whether it was inadequate, we need to know more about what happened," Manley told the Globe and Mail newspaper. "But if this is linked to religious extremism, we've significantly changed the security game in Canada."
Easy access
Visitors have to go through metal detectors, but once they go through one set, they have easy access to most parliamentary offices. It's unclear how the gunman got past the metal detectors and into the building.
"Somebody who decides that they want to rush the building can walk up ... and then rush into the building before anybody can really effectively do anything," lawmaker Marc Garneau told CNN partner network CTV.
He would like to see the security checkpoints moved to the "edges of the parliamentary precinct, so that when people enter onto the grounds itself, they've already been screened."
Intensified security
In the past two decades, Canada has intensified security in government buildings after a man drove a bus into Parliament Hill in 1989.
In 2009, environmental protesters made it to the top of two buildings.
Each incidents led to calls for more security restrictions.
A delicate balance
Still, lawmakers are loathe to see draconian measures imposed that will limit public access in favor of greater security.
"I just think what's really important to remember from this is that Parliament Hill is an incredible public place that's open for people to play football and come and protest and sit and have their lunches, do their yoga," Charlie Angus told CTV.