As a journalist recorded heart-pounding video of a shootout Wednesday morning inside a Parliament building in Ottawa, two local MPs were huddled with colleagues in meeting rooms just metres away.
The video, made by Globe and Mail reporter Josh Wingrove and broadcast widely on news channels, shows police with firearms drawn moving carefully down a Centre Block hallway, followed by dozens of gunshots.
On either side of that hallway are rooms where New Democrats and Conservatives were in their weekly caucus meetings.
Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair had just finished speaking when gunshots interrupted their proceedings.
“All of a sudden we heard this loud noise, and a security guard rushed into our room and made the gesture of a gun and said, ‘Get down!’ And so we did.
“And he courageously stood by that door, and we barricaded the other door, and stayed in that position locked down,” Atamanenko recalled in a telephone interview Thursday.
Soon after, he continued, “Security came and took us through the Senate, then through an underground passage to a building called East Block, where we spent the day locked down in a committee room.”
Dan Albas, the Conservative MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla, was more reluctant to share details out of respect for “confidentiality of caucus or security.”
“But it’s well-known we were in caucus, I heard gunshots and immediately was impressed by the professionalism of our security team at the House of Commons,” Albas said.
After that, “We have several members of our caucus who are former police officers that were quite helpful in helping us to cope with the initial chaos, coupled with the long silence, where you’re tracing through your mind all the different scenarios that could be happening,” he continued.
Albas said he worked on his weekly report to constituents during the lockdown, which ended for both men around 9 p.m. EDT.
“Security came and we were all put on a bus with a police escort and flashing lights to go over to Foreign Affairs, where we had to basically talk to people and give them our name and say if we’d seen anything or heard anything,” said Atamanenko.
He went back early Thursday to the House of Commons, where MPs mourned the soldier who was fatally shot at the National War Memorial and celebrated the sergeant-at-arms who killed the gunman responsible for the carnage.
“There’s a mood of unity between all of us here as we try to move forward. We’re here, we’re back to work and we want to make sure people understand Parliament goes on in spite of a tragedy,” said Atamanenko.
“One reporter asked me this morning on the radio, ‘Is this when we lost our innocence?’ No. But every generation has to face challenges,” he said.
“Ours is much different than my grandfather’s, but when the call comes, you do what it takes to make sure this country is free and that my children are going to have the same liberties my grandfather did.”
Atamanenko hopes security personnel don’t overreact to whatever recommendations arise from their internal reviews.
“I’ve always considered myself safe here,” he said. “The security’s always been there, but unassuming, and I feel safe today.”