As gunfire echoed through the hallways outside the Conservative Party’s caucus meeting room on Wednesday morning, legislators quickly made plans to protect themselves against any intruders.
MPs began heaving heavy chairs to barricade the doors, while others snapped flagpoles to turn them into makeshift spears.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay handed one to Yukon MP Ryan Leef, who was guarding a door, ready to impale anyone who came in.
“We wanted to make sure none of our colleagues were going to inadvertently slip out and that nobody could get through the doors without a heck of a fight,” said Leef.
As the distinctive bangs moved closer and were getting louder, Leef could tell they were coming from more than one weapon.
That’s when his training and experience as a RCMP officer in Watson Lake kicked in.
“Many of us have had these scenarios run through in training,” Leef said, referring to other members who also have backgrounds in military or police service.
A retired mixed-martial arts fighter, Leef helped barricade a door and was prepared to defend it against whatever came through it.
“Most of us realized that if we could hold anybody off for about four minutes we were going to be in good shape. We knew there was going to be a tremendous response from the outside,” Leef said.
He said he first thought the sounds came from all the construction around Parliament Hill.
“It was a bit surreal,” he said, “as all of this is happening in about 45 seconds.”
“Your mind quickly races to what’s going on in the hallway, who is engaged in the shooting. Many of us knew what we had to do, which was to ensure no one could get out of the room.
Leef said security staff stationed in the hallways quickly locked the doors to the room.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was hustled into a nearby closet as others began piling chairs as high as they could in front of the doors.
“I looked around and recognized that we had a military or police officer at every single access point in the room,” he said.
Leef hoped his NDP colleagues across the hall were safe, too, and worried the gunmen would get access to their room, he said.
The following 10 hours were filled with anxiety and uncertainty for MPs who had no idea what was going on.
At 9:52 a.m., Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally shot Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a soldier standing guard at the Canadian National War Memorial.
Two minutes later, a volley of gunfire was heard in Parliament’s Centre Block.
By 10:12 a.m., Parliament Hill was put on lockdown.
Chaotic scenes unfolded around Parliament Hill and media reports began talking about the possibility of multiple shooters.
Footage emerged of police officers running up the hallway leading to the Parliament Library, ducking for cover over the sound of sustained gunfire.
It’s the second domestic terrorism event Leef has experienced in the past 18 months.
He had recently completed the Boston Marathon in April 2013 when two bombs exploded near the finish line.
“That was a very different experience though,” he said, “and as Wednesday’s events unfolded it became a brand new experience all on its own.
“I really hope there’s not a third.”
Yukon Senator Dan Lang was in the same room as Leef. He said it was an experience that is hard to put into words.
“You can use the word surreal, because you don’t really believe this is happening but you know it is,” he said yesterday.
“It was an ordeal I wouldn’t recommend to anybody.”
It wasn’t the first time Lang’s life had been put in danger. He found himself involved in a four-rocket attack alert in Israel last summer as part of a group of seven Canadian politicians visiting the country as guests of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Wednesday was a very sad day for Canada, Lang said.
“We lost a wonderful young soldier who was basically shot in cold blood,” he said.
“We’ve experienced a lot of terrorist threats in the past 10 years, that we’ve been able to thwart, but we’ve never really experienced the situation where those who wanted to harm us actually accomplished it.”
Both Leef and Lang expressed their condolences to the family of Cirillo.
“This act was clearly designed to intimidate but it has not deterred not intimidated anybody,” Leef said.
“We are at work today doing the jobs that Canadians expect of us.”
Contact Myles Dolphin at