Sunday 17 November 2019

'My tears on the night I shot an armed terrorist'

HERO: Canadian ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers with Irish President Michael D Higgins
HERO: Canadian ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers with Irish President Michael D Higgins

Allison Bray

Canada's new ambassador to Ireland broke down in tears the night after he shot dead an armed terrorist who stormed his nation's parliament last year, calling it "the loneliest moment of my life."

In an emotional speech to graduating students at Mount Allison University in his native province of New Brunswick last week, Kevin Vickers relived the ordeal that made him an overnight hero and led to his diplomatic posting here.

The 29-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was a senior security officer working as the Sergeant-in-Arms at the parliament buildings in the nation's capital on October 22, when a lone gunman shot and killed a young soldier on sentry duty at Ottawa's National War Museum.

A chilling video later emerged of the gunman justifying his attack based on Canada's involvement in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 32-year-old gunman armed with a rifle - who has later identified as an Islamic convert who planned to join the jihadi movement in Syria - then stormed the main lobby housing the House of Commons and Senate chambers before Mr Vickers (58) intervened.

Referring to what he called "that tragic, tragic day", he said: "I found myself on one side of the pillar and a gunman on the other side of the pillar. His gun was right there.

"There was a moment where I thought I would just reach out and grab the gun.

"He shot and fired and the moment he shot and fired I dove through the air, landing on the floor just beneath him."

He then fired a shot that fatally injured the gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

The gunman's onslaught left senior politicians and civil servants cowering under desks and barricaded in their offices while the city was in lockdown for hours.

"That day was a blur to me," Mr Vickers admitted, his voice quivering with emotion.

"I went home that night and I had a hard time going to sleep. I woke up around 5.30 in the morning and I was crying. It was the loneliest moment of my life," he said. When he returned to duty at Parliament Hill the following day, he was given a standing ovation by members of parliament.

Their heartfelt salute to a hero made headlines around the world.

Soon afterwards, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Mr Vickers as Canadian ambassador to Ireland.

The premier noted how the actions of Mr Vickers had shown "profound leadership and dedication to the security of Canada and its national institutions" as well as "bravery and integrity" that he believed would serve "to deepen close bilateral relations between Canada and Ireland in the years ahead".

Mr Vickers is an Irish-Canadian Catholic who is a descendent of famine survivors who settled in the Miramichi region of northern New Brunswick. The area attracted large waves of Irish emigrants before and after the famines of the 19th century.

Mr Vickers credited his enduring faith, and his Irish-Canadian "mammy" for helping him get through the trauma of the shooting. He said, two days after the shooting, he drove all night to get home at his mother's insistence. During that long journey home he realised that he needed to pray, not only for the 24-year-old sentry who was murdered by the gunman, but also for Bibeau and his family.

He arrived home at 4am and phoned the family priest who, oddly, was still awake at that hour.

"It was as if he was waiting for the phone call," he recalled.

The following day, the priest said Mass at the Vickers homestead.

"After Mass, I went to the (Miramichi) river and realised how important mothers are," he said.

His revelations about the shooting mark the first time he has spoken publicly about the ordeal since he was appointed ambassador to Ireland in February.

He will meet other Irish-Canadians and Canadian ex-pats living in Ireland here next month when he attends the annual Irish Canadian Society Canada Day picnic on June 28 at Malahide Castle.

Sunday Independent

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