By TOM GODFREY
Senator Don Meredith used his training as an ordained minister to comfort political colleagues during a tense 10-hour lockdown in Parliament as a gunman opened fire before being slain.
“It was a very frightening experience for all of us,” Meredith told Share of last week’s attempted siege of Parliament following the death of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. “We were all kept in this room and no one knew what was going on at first.”
Meredith was the only Jamaican-Canadian among the more than 160 Conservative MPs and Senators in the meeting when gunfire erupted outside in the Hall of Honour, where a gunman was shot dead by Canada’s sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers.
Cirillo, 24, was shot and killed while on honorary guard at the National War Memorial. The Hamilton reservist from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada was guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
He was the second Canadian Armed Forces soldier to be killed in two days. Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent was run down in a Quebec parking lot by a car driven by a radicalized Muslim convert who was being monitored by police.
Cirillo, who received a full military funeral, leaves behind a six-year-old son.
“We heard bang, bang, bang and the security officials sprang into action to ensure everyone was safe,” a still-shaken Meredith said. “The entire Caucus was inside that room and there were gunshots right outside our door.”
He said Prime Minister Stephen Harper was speaking to Caucus as gunfire broke out. Harper was quickly spirited away to safety by an RCMP detail through a back door.
“He (the gunman) ran right by the door of our meeting room,” the Senator said. “If he knew the layout of the building or just turned left he could gain access to the Caucus room and it would have been a total disaster.”
Almost 100 MPs of the NDP caucus were also meeting in a nearby room. Many of the nervous politicians were tweeting their experiences after placing tables and chairs against the doors to prevent the shooter from entering.
Meredith said the politicians calmed down after a few hours and were thinking of their families.
The volunteer pastor of Pentecostal Praise Centre Ministries in Maple said his years of spiritual training kicked in and he was comforting or offering help to his colleagues.
“As a man of faith I was helping to comfort my colleagues,” said Meredith. “I was finding resources to help some of my colleagues since we were all locked in.”
Meredith and his fellow politicians were released from lockdown after 8 p.m., as police conducted a search of the massive building.
Some of the MPs required their medication or had families waiting outside, he said.
“There were some people who were in discomfort and needed help,” said Meredith. “I was able to help some of those in need.”
He is still stunned that a gun battle can take place inside the halls of Parliament.
Meredith has visited many Toronto housing complexes without incident as founder and executive director of the GTA Faith Alliance, an interfaith group that seeks solutions to youth violence.
“No one expects to have bullets flying inside the Parliament building,” he said. “I didn’t expect gunfire so close to the heart of the Government of Canada.”
He said MPs are now more careful and vigilant of those around them, as all Canadians are urged to be.
The dead shooter is identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, 32, who police claimed had converted to Islam and was trying to obtain a passport to travel to Syria.
His mother, a lawyer and executive of the Immigration and Refugee Board, said she had not seen her son for five years. His father is Libyan.
The killer of the first soldier is Martin Couture-Rouleau, a Muslim convert whom the RCMP had investigated as an Islamic State sympathizer. He was killed after his car crashed into a ditch during a police chase.