Liberal MP John McKay reflects on a sobering morning on Parliament Hill

“I hope we don’t yield to paranoia.”

Liberal MP John McKay was not locked down with the rest of the Liberal caucus, and many MPs from all parties gathering for their regular Wednesday caucus meetings, when the alleged shooter entered the Centre Block of the Parliament buildings.

McKay happened to be just arriving in the building when he heard shots. Security guards told him, and others coming in at that moment, to put their coats back on and exit. He says he was ushered out behind the historic Library of Parliament, where he says a construction worker coolly suggested that people gathering there should get behind one of the monuments on the Parliament grounds, overlooking the Ottawa River, in case they needed protection from shots fired inside the building.

McKay later spoke with reporters a few blocks from the Hill, after police told groups of parliamentary workers and visitors to move away from the building and its grounds, and into the streets nearby. When he encountered reporters a few block away, he seemed calm, but his voice at times betrayed emotions held a bay. With police still searching the area around the Hill, he was already contemplating how this violent incident might change Parliament Hill—and Canada.

On his first impressions when he heard shots and was told to get out:

“This is strange. This is not something I’ve experienced in 17 years on Parliament Hill. Strangely, it was just sort of a flat reaction—just do what the security people tell you to do.”

On the scene just outside Centre Block:

“Well, there was one woman who was pretty upset. Another woman [had] a baby carriage and she was crouching behind the monument. The construction guy was the guy with the calm demeanour and kind of herded us a little bit, and I thought he made perfectly good sense. So that was the conversation.”

On talking with a woman who says she actually saw the alleged shooter in Centre Block, when he was just outside the door to the Library of Parliament:

“The way she described it, she was inside and, as you know, the doors are sliding doors . . . and so the way she described it, she was on the inside and he was standing on the outside. Those of us who know that particular area know that is very close.”

On his immediate concerns about how this might change the atmosphere on and around Parliament Hill:

“It worries me that, in the 17 years I’ve been on the Hill, and certainly before that, we’ve enjoyed a reasonable access to Parliament. What that means is a reasonable access by the people of Canada to their elected legislators. I think that’s a good thing; I think that’s a tremendous value. I don’t want it to turn into the situation they have in [the U.S.] Congress, for example, where it’s a virtual armed camp.”

On the broader reaction among Canadians and how the country might react:

“As I’m wandering down here, I’m thinking: Boy, this changes a lot of things . . . I hope we don’t yield to paranoia. I hope that, somehow or another, we protect our democracy. We have a tremendous country. If you travel the world, we’ve got it pretty darn good here.”


LIVE BLOG: Updates on the Ottawa shooting as details emerge

Paul Wells: Parliament Hill under siege

Parliament Hill shooting leaves soldier, 1 suspect dead

Ottawa shooting: Photos from the scene

Map: Ottawa in lockdown


Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.