Queen’s students caught in Ottawa uncertainty

Former student spent Wednesday in Centre Block lockdown

Police outside Centre Block on Wednesday.
Police outside Centre Block on Wednesday.
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A broken door in Parliament.
A broken door in Parliament.
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The shootings at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and inside Parliament on Wednesday that left a soldier and the shooter dead saw a former Queen’s student deal with the uncertainty from inside Centre Block, and a current student stuck in a train station instead of going to a job interview.

A former Queen’s student and current political staffer, who requested to remain anonymous due to media rules of his job, said he was in lockdown for 12 hours and didn’t leave Centre Block until after 10 p.m.

He said he initially heard about the shooting at the Memorial through a misreported story passed on by another staffer. Moments later, while alone in the office, he heard a House of Commons security guard running down the hall, calling to everyone to get inside and lock the doors, he said, adding that this seemed to have happened moments before the gunman entered Centre Block.

“I was two floors above it and still could hear it. I did not actually know what it was, since there is a lot of construction and blasting going on every day at West Block and I mistook it for that,” he told the Journal via Facebook.

“I was supposed to be huddled and hiding but really I wasn’t as concerned as I should have been, even after I could see assault rifle wielding police outside,” he added. “After that, I remembered that CC existed on the TV and just watched it muted while I answered emails from different places and passed off media requests.”

He said the proper hiding spot was a reinforced doorway between the two halves of the office, and he ran over to it whenever he heard sound outside, which turned out to always have been security or police.

A few hours later, he said, the police began clearing the floor through a door-by-door search. When the police found staff, they brought them to a protected room in a cleared hallway — at first the men’s washroom, and later an office.

“The searches were not gentle, a fair bit of heritage doors and materials are smashed. But that’s the price you pay. An old door isn’t worth a life when the police can’t be sure what’s on the other side,” he said.

Alongside the staffer in the protected room were a number of diabetics using sugar packets, a Hill courier working his last day before retirement and a toddler, he said.

He said some people got information about what was going on through social media.

“I mostly just talked to friends and family that I was safe,” he said.

Cole Meagher, a first-year law student, was in Ottawa for a job interview at an office near the Memorial, but was unable to leave the downtown train station due to the shooting.

“No one knew what was going on,” Meagher said. “Everyone was saying contradicting things.”

Still, he added, social media was useful in keeping people connected and aware of what was going on.

“It’s useful, because even if there’s the minute things, like there was a shooting and this is where it was … that’s another way of getting information faster,” he said.

Vincent Mosco, professor emeritus of sociology at Queen’s and former Canada Research Chair in Communication and Society, said social media’s ideal role is to provide information that people can’t get from traditional media like television or radio, and let people reach out to those who are worried about them.

“It can provide information, it can connect people — so, for example, I’ve used social media, I’m sitting here in downtown Ottawa and I’m letting my family and friends know that my wife and I are fine,” Mosco said. “That’s an important function of social media.”

He added that social media can hinder security in some situations, but the presence of trained reporters at Parliament meant that it helped in this one.

“One of the most problematic things about social media is that it’s often inaccurate — you get the event wrong, the number of shooters wrong, the number of people shot wrong, locations of shootings wrong, and that’s consistent across those social media events where there are few reporters around,” Mosco said.

Most of what he saw throughout Wednesday, though, was accurate, he said.

“In this case, because there were trained journalists on the scene, social media did a much better job than it’s done in other situations like this, and that’s an important distinction to be made,” he said.

“It’s not just the nature of social media — it’s who’s doing the communicating, and trained people on the scene are much better able to provide an informed and accurate description.”

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