Legislature, CFB Esquimalt on alert; MP offices closed

The flag outside the B.C. legislature was lowered to half mast Wedneday morning following news that the soldier shot by a gunman at the National War Memorial in Ottawa had died.

Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner said extra officers secured the legislature building after the attack at Parliament Hill.

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The legislature is under restricted access; the public cannot enter the building, but scheduled tours will still take place.

“There is a heightened awareness of the matter until we have a better understanding of what’s happened in Ottawa,” said Craig James, clerk of the B.C. legislature. “I think people are anxious.”

James said a note is being sent to all legislature staff to inform them of the extra precautions.

“Due to the events in Ottawa this morning, additional security staff have been deployed to enhance our security services,” James said. “We continue to closely monitor the situation in Ottawa.”

James said B.C. legislature security staff were informed this week of “a heightened concern” from intelligence and security officials in Ottawa.

He would not elaborate on the specifics of the concern, but said the information was shared with the appropriate people, including some MLAs.

A message Oct. 10 from Chief of Defence Staff Tom Lawson to all Canadian Armed Forces personnel said: “While there are no current specific indicators of an attack on Canadian soil, it is important for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, our families and our civilian partners to remain vigilant. We all have to be alert to things that might be out of the normal.”

Sgt. Steve Eassie of Saanich police said the department also received an intelligence bulletin in the last two weeks warning that military or police personnel could become a target and to be hyper-vigilant.

On Friday, days before a man used his car to run down two soldiers in Quebec, killing one and injuring another, Canada’s national terrorism alert was raised from low to medium. The soldier who was killed, Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, 53, worked as a firefighter throughout Canada during 28 years in the Canadian Forces, including stints in Comox and Esquimalt.

While security was tightened at military bases elsewhere in Canada after Wednesday's shooting, there was no change to access to CFB Esquimalt, though military police officers took up posts at entrances to parts of the base, such as Dockyard, that are normally off-limits to visitors.

“CFB Esquimalt is not on lockdown, despite rumours to the contrary,” said the base commander, Capt. Steve Waddell.

Likewise, military personnel had not, as of Wednesday, been told to avoid wearing their uniforms in public, he said. About 3,500 uniformed personnel work out of CFB Esquimalt.

Waddell said the base routinely reviews its security measures. “We don’t talk about specifics.”

At the legislature, sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz said there had been no specific threat against B.C.’s parliament.

Lenz said there are firearms on the premises but would not confirm if security staff carry firearms.

The B.C legislature underwent a complete security review following the foiled bomb plot that targeted the building on Canada Day 2013. That included trimming back bushes and removing low-hanging branches to clear the sight lines for enhanced video surveillance.

Elsner said there is no immediate threat in Victoria, but police want to make sure people feel safe.

“We have a heightened the level of visible presence here now,” Elsner said.

RCMP on Vancouver Island and across B.C. are closely monitoring the evolving situation in Ottawa, Cpl. Darren Lagan said. “I can tell you that we, along with our law enforcement partners, are continually assessing potential threats and adjusting security needs accordingly,” he said.

“While there have been no threats in our province, we encourage everyone to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to their local police department immediately.”

Most constituency offices of MPs on Vancouver Island and across the country have closed as a security precaution.

Bruce Fogg, constituency assistant for Esquimalt-Juan De Fuca NDP MP Randall Garrison, said Garrison’s office did not open Wednesday morning.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May’s office is open but secured, said Jonathan Dickie, constituency assistant for her riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. “We’ve opened at our regular time, but are taking extra precautions,” Dickie said.

“We’re shocked by the incidents in Ottawa this morning and sad to hear of the death of the soldier at the memorial,” Dickie said. “We are relieved that our Parliament Hill colleagues are all safe.”

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is monitoring the situation in co-operation with Transport Canada, spokesman Ivan Watson said. At this point, it’s business as usual.

B.C. Ferries’ operations and security centres are monitoring the fleet and facilities around the clock, with security officers at major terminals and random canine screening in effect, spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said.

However, the marine security threat level — determined by Transport Canada Marine Security — remains at Level 1.

“That is the lowest level,” Marshall said. “But given the tragic events that have happened in Ottawa this morning, we’ve increased our vigilance in monitoring our ships and our terminals and our facilities today.”

B.C. Ferries takes direction from Transport Canada, but has also been in touch with other federal and provincial agencies, as well as other transportation agencies, Marshall said.

Flights are continuing on schedule at the Victoria International Airport, said James Bogusz, vice-president operations and development.

“As with any security measure, we keep our ear to the ground. If the government provides us with any information, we, of course, would follow it to the letter. But at this point, it’s business as usual at YYJ,” Bogusz said.

Clipper Vacations, which runs a passenger ferry between Victoria and Seattle, has not received any guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CEO Darrell Bryan said. “At this point, we don’t anticipate changes in terms of elevated security levels,” Bryan said.

“We always shake our heads at how many wackos there are in North America. ... I hope I’m not proven wrong by thinking this particular incident is localized to Ottawa.”

A spokesperson for the Black Ball Ferry Line’s MV Coho, which travels between Victoria and Port Angeles, Washington, declined to comment.

 

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