OTTAWA (Reuters) - The guard credited with killing a gunman in Canada’s parliament fought back tears as lawmakers greeted him with a prolonged standing ovation, cheers and whistles on Thursday when he resumed his duties.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and fellow lawmakers stood for a thunderous, minutes-long ovation as Kevin Vickers, the House of Commons’ Sergeant-at-Arms, led the traditional parade that opens every House session, dressed in ceremonial garb.
Vickers, a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer who is in charge of parliamentary security, was reportedly in his office on Wednesday morning when a gunman ran into the Centre Block of Parliament through the open front door, with police and security guards in pursuit.
Vickers, 58, drew his handgun and fired multiple shots at the gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, close to where Harper had been addressing his Conservative caucus.
“I understand Mr. Vickers and the suspect were behind pillars, and were exchanging fire,” RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told a news conference on Thursday afternoon.
“The suspect repositioned himself to get a better shot of Mr. Vickers when our (RCMP) officers engaged, and you may have heard the sort of multitude of shots.”
Zehaf-Bibeau, who was firing a 30-30 Winchester lever-action rifle, died in the hail of bullets. Police said the dead man was not in legal possession of the weapon.
Paulson said a Mountie and a House security guard also engaged Zehaf-Bibeau as he entered the front door, and some shooting occurred. A hole in the carpet shows where a guard said Zehaf-Bibeau’s weapon went off, wounding the guard who had been struggling with him.
On Thursday, Vickers went back to work.
Dressed for ceremony in black suit and hat, white tie and carrying a silver sword and golden mace, Vickers led the Speaker’s Parade through the halls of parliament, where staff and security lined the route and applauded, some in tears.
Once in the House of Commons, Vickers laid the mace on the center table and was greeted by the ovation from members of parliament. The gray-haired Vickers, holding back tears, nodded his thanks several times.
“I am very touched by the attention directed at me following yesterday’s events,” Vickers said in a statement that shared credit with his security team. “As this is an ongoing investigation, I unfortunately cannot comment any further at this time.”
The prime minister crossed the floor to shake Vickers’ hand and hug him, and opposition party leaders offered similar tribute.
“Kevin, without your service a terrible situation would have become much worse,” Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said in parliament.
New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair praised Vickers and his security team: “The courage and professionalism they showed in the face of such brutality embodies what is the best in what it means to be Canadian.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May got a smile and a thumbs-up from Vickers when she suggested letting him go fly-fishing in Miramichi, his hometown in rural New Brunswick.
Canadians have hailed Vickers, a decorated police veteran who has previously advocated “no walls around Canada’s parliamentary buildings,” as a hero.
“Anyone who thought Canada’s Sergeant-at-Arms role was an archaic novelty now understands the man holding the scepter has a deadly serious job,” the Calgary Sun newspaper wrote.
Twitter user @jm_mcgrath tweeted: “Bill C-633, the Kevin Vickers never pays for his own drinks in this country again Act.”
Additional writing by Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Howard Goller and Frances Kerry