OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — The standing ovation began even before Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers entered the Parliament chamber in his black robe, carrying the golden ceremonial mace on his right shoulder.
For more than two minutes, the lawmakers applauded and pounded their desks Thursday for the white-haired former Mountie, hailed as a hero for shooting the gunman who had stormed Canada’s seat of power just a day earlier.
At first expressionless and motionless, the 58-year-old Vickers eventually responded to the ovation with a few slight nods of his head, his lips quivering with emotion.
Later in the session, Prime Minister Stephen Harper lauded Vickers, whose job — a mix of the ceremonial and the practical — encompasses the maintenance of safety and security in the Parliament complex.
« I would be very remiss if I did not conclude in acknowledging specifically the work of the security forces here on Parliament and the great work of our sergeant-at-arms, » Harper said to more cheers and applause from the members.
Harper then walked over to shake Vickers’ hand and clap him on the shoulder.
« I am very touched by the attention directed at me following yesterday’s events, » Vickers said in a statement.
« However, I have the support of a remarkable security team, » he added. « Yesterday, during extraordinary circumstances, security personnel demonstrated professionalism and courage. I am grateful and proud to be part of this team. »
He said he would have no further immediate comment on the incident while an investigation unfolded.
The gunman who invaded Parliament, identified as petty criminal Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, had been seen by witnesses minutes earlier, fatally shooting a soldier posted at the nearby National War Memorial.
As shots rang out in the Parliament building, people fled the complex by scrambling down scaffolding erected for renovations, while others took cover inside as police with rifles and body armor took up positions outside and cordoned off the normally bustling streets around Parliament.
Video broadcast Thursday showed Vickers moments after the gunfire, walking down a corridor in the Parliament building with a handgun in his right hand.
In his statement, Vickers said one of the security officers on duty with the House of Commons, Constable Samearn Son, suffered a gunshot wound to the leg but was expected to make a full recovery.
Praise for Vickers was swift and widespread.
« Thank God for Sgt at Arms Kevin Vickers & our Cdn security forces. True heroes. » tweeted Justice Minister Peter MacKay.
Vickers, whose background includes providing security for visiting members of Britain’s royal family, became sergeant-at-arms in the House of Commons eight years ago after a varied security career. He spent nearly 30 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, reaching the rank of chief superintendent.
A former RCMP deputy commissioner, Pierre-Yves Bourduas, who also has security duties at Parliament Hill, said told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Wednesday that Vickers was a meticulous planner.
« He actually did mock-up scenarios for the personnel … very much like what happened today, » Bourduas told the CBC.
Vickers was born in New Brunswick and spent much of his police career there.
His son, Andrew, has carried on the family tradition as a police officer in Miramichi, New Brunswick.
Three years ago, Andrew was lauded in the federal Parliament for diving into the frigid, fast-flowing Miramichi River to rescue a drowning woman who was trying to kill herself.
« We are happy to see Andrew following in the footsteps of his dad, » said the lawmaker who saluted him, Tilly O’Neill-Gordon. Then, as on Thursday, the chamber erupted in cheers.
It’s not the first time a Canadian sergeant-at-arms has confronted a killer. In 1984, a disgruntled soldier, Denis Lortie, attacked the Quebec legislature, spraying the chamber with submachine gun fire, killing three people and wounding 13. The sergeant-at-arms, Rene Jalbert, calmly entered the chamber and talked to Lortie for several hours, eventually persuading him to surrender. Jalbert was awarded the Cross of Valor, Canada’s highest award for civilian bravery.