The Capital Chronicles

with Mia Rabson

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  • Terror in the capital

    10/22/2014 1:06 PM

    It was just another normal day in Ottawa.

    But then quite literally, hell broke loose.

    I realized something crazy was happening as I arrived on Parliament Hill shortly before 10 a.m. and more RCMP cruisers than I knew were on the Hill began racing towards Centreblock. On Wellington Street, the road that runs in front of Parliament Hill, an RCMP cruiser screeched to a halt so quickly it left the smell of burnt rubber in the air, and the cop jumped out and began racing towards Centreblock with his hand on his gun.

    I've seen police with their lights on not infrequently on the Hill, and usually it is an abundance of caution. A backpack left behind by accident by a tourist, being checked for explosives. A disturbance among protesters.

    But something about this felt different. The sheer number of cars and the urgency in their actions seemed higher than I've seen in the past. 

    It was several minutes before I got word that there had been shots fired on Parliament Hill. Shortly after that I heard a soldier had been shot at the National War Memorial, which is a little bit to the southeast of Parliament Hill. The memorial has two ceremonial guards standing on either side. Today the guards were reservists from Hamilton.

    The suspect then ran towards Parliament Hill where witnesses say he carjacked a car, drove it up to Centreblock and disappeared.

    Globe and Mail reporter Josh Wingrove took chilling video inside Parliament Hill, where shots were fired in the Hall of Honour, which is right in the middle of Centreblock. This is the same hallway were ceremonial events take place, where tourists mill about, and where the two biggest conference rooms on the Hill are located. It is usually quite busy.

    Reports say Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers, shot the suspect. Police later confirmed one suspect was dead inside Centreblock.

    On the streets around the Hill, police kept moving the public and media back, first one block, then two, then three. At one point, police shouted "run now" at reporters, as it was feared an armed suspect was in a building nearby.

    Downtown office buildings, including my own, were placed in lockdown. From my office I could see police snipers on the roof across the street, carefully searching. Management in my building told people to stay in our offices, and outside people said they could see police streaming into the building.

    There are police everywhere, armoured vehicles and swat teams and soldiers are running up and down the streets. Stores and restaurants on Sparks Street, the pedestrian mall one block south of Parliament Hill, were all closed down. 

    In Centreblock, staffers I spoke to were terrified. They were hiding under their desks, barricading the doors with tables. Parliament Hill security sent several messages telling people to do just that and to not open their doors under any circumstances.

    Police and Parliament Hill security are going door by door in Centreblock to identify everyone inside. If they can't get into an office, they are breaking down the doors. 

    Wednesday mornings on Parliament Hill are reserved for caucus meetings. The Conservatives, NDP and Liberals all meet in different rooms and normally reporters line up outside those rooms to try and chat with MPs as they leave. Two of these caucus meetings take place in rooms just off the Hall of Honour, where the shooting took place.

    The shooting began just as the meetings were supposed to begin.

    Manitoba MP Kevin Lamoureux says the Liberals, who meet in a smaller room in the basement of Centreblock, were evacuated through a back door from the basement, and then ushered through the construction site of West Block, and towards the Confederation Building, which is on the west side of Parliament Hill.

    Many other MPs remain in lock down inside Centreblock. Cell signals appear to be blocked in much of downtown Ottawa, making phone calls and text messages difficult to get through.

    The RCMP just had a press conference where they couldn't say much, including whether or not there is another suspect or not. Since much of Ottawa remains in lockdown and police still say the public should stay away from downtown, it feels as if they may not know the actual answer to this yet themselves.

    There are a lot of questions out there that will be answered eventually but at the moment, there is more unknown than known. Rumours were flying, including that there was another shooting at the Rideau Centre, a shopping mall just east of Parliament Hill. Others reported that a suspect had fled downtown on a motorcycle and was seen as far west as Kanata, on the Queensway freeway that runs through Ottawa. Police later said the Rideau Centre reports were false.

    The police say the situation is "fluid and ongoing." That's about the only thing we know for sure right now. 


  • Franklin my dear, we do give a damn

    09/10/2014 7:36 AM

    Prime Minister Stephen Harper was like a five-year-old on Christmas morning Tuesday as he got to do what he, and many prime ministers before him, have wanted to do.

    He got to announce that one of the longest historical mysteries in Canada had been solved

    "This is a day of very good news," he began, seated at a table in a boardroom in Ottawa. "And that is that we have found one of the two Franklin ships." 

    There was applause around the table, and as Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq sat beaming beside him, Harper did something he doesn't often do, at least in public.

    He beamed with happiness. 

    For a man often described as emotionless and robotic, it was one of the biggest displays of happiness I've seen on him outside of the nights of his electoral victories in 2006, 2008 and 2011. Even some people as politically opposed to Harper as one can get made note of how nice it was to see that.

    Headlines around the world triumphed the achievement, the find of the two ships from the Sir John Franklin expedition in the 1840s which ended when the two ships were trapped in ice in the northwest passage. Franklin and his 128 crew members all perished. Neither they, nor their ships, have ever been found, although people have been looking for nearly two centuries.

    It was, until Tuesday, Canada's oldest cold case, a story which fascinated school kids in history class and with which, for some reason, our current prime minister has been obsessed. Just a few weeks ago he was on a ship in the Arctic looking for the Franklin, something he has done many times before on his annual August tours of the Arctic.

    There are the skeptics of course, who criticize the search for the lost Franklin ships as a money waster, a show of symbolism for which Parks Canada is paying dearly amid cutbacks to national parks and conservation programs.

    Surely Harper's political foes were rolling their eyes as he claimed the technology which found the ship is helping Canada assert its sovereignty in the Arctic. 

    Yes the debate will rage as to whether this means anything at all in that endeavour.

    But for one moment Tuesday Canadians got to see something in their prime minister that no sweater-vest advertisement or carefully posed family Christmas photo has ever been able to produce.

    Pure, unadulterated glee.



  • Finding NEEMO

    09/8/2014 11:48 AM

    For filing in the "that's pretty cool" folder, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen is heading underwater for an entire week on a mission that could simulate gravity conditions on Mars.

    Hansen is one of a four-member "aquanaut" crew that will be living and working in the Aquarius habitat in Key Largo, Florida, an ocean laboratory located 20 metres under the surface of the ocean. The lab is usually used by marine biologists but for the next seven days it will be home to a number of NASA experiments as part of NEEMO 19. NEEMO stands for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations.

    Hansen, a 37-year-old from Ailsa Craig, Ont., is a former CF-18 fighter pilot who was selected in 2009 through the Canadian astronaut recruitment program. He graduated from NASA's astronaut training program in 2011 and currently works at NASA's Mission Control Centre in Houston. He is awaiting his first assignment to travel to space.

    Hansen will be the exploration lead on the team, meaning he will oversee the planning and execution of underwater "spacewalks" which will simulat the communications between ground and astronaut crews in space. The walks will including experiments using varying levels of gravity such as that of asteroids, Martian moons and even Mars itself.

    The crew has been training since September 1 and headed down into the lab today. They posted a video of training day one

    According to Hansen's bio he is learning to speak Russian. Perhaps for this mission he also will learn how to speak whale.


  • Friends, foes and Liberals among us

    09/5/2014 10:14 AM

    Political parties have always sent operatives to each other's events. It's bascially spying but it's not exactly covert. Often times opposing party MPs will even get accredited for another party's convention so they can get inside and be easily prepared to criticize whatever it is they see.

    It makes everyone's life easier I suppose than to try and have your own people sneaking around to glean what the other parties are doing on a particular day. 

    But the Liberals this week are accusing the Conservatives of taking it to the next level and planting young Conservative staffers in the audience to ask questions of Liberal MPs and candidates, hoping to get them to say something that contradicts what Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has said. 

    It happened earlier this year with MP John McKay when he was asked about Trudeau's plan to not let anyone run for the Liberals who didn't support a woman's right to choose. It happened earlier this week when retired General Andrew Leslie, who is running for the Liberals in an Ottawa riding and is one of Trudeau's key policy advisors, was asked about the Israel-Hamas conflict. In both cases recordings of the responses were handed over to the media.

    Both McKay and Leslie have to be responsible for their words, no matter who asked them the question. In McKay's case he clearly criticized Trudeau's policy and even referred to it as a "bozo eruption". Maybe the Conservatives planted the question to a known pro-life LIberal MP hoping to find ammunition against Trudeau. But McKay still said what he said and likely would have said no matter who asked the question.

    This was not an example of what I refer to as "beat your wife journalism." You know the kind of story where a journalist asks a politician "hey do you beat your wife" and when the politician says no they then run a story saying "Politician X denies beating his wife." Which of course means a lot of people will think there must be a reason he had to deny it and therefore it might be true. 

    The Conservative staffer did not say "hey John McKay do you think Trudeau's policy on anti-aborition candidates makes him a bozo?" McKay came up with that response all on his own and he and Trudeau need to explain and come to terms with what that means for both of them and the party.

    Leslie was a little less obvious about his criticism, as he expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself, but he was critical of what he called Israel "firing indiscriminately" on Palestinian women and children. But the headlines on the stories screamed that a top Trudeau advisor was off side with Trudeau on support for Israel. He surely was more critical of Israel than Trudeau has generally been but there is a lot more grey area on this one than on McKay's response.

    No matter, the Conservatives are trying to spin it as Trudeau surrpetitiously having one of his candidates say one thing to one set of people while publicly trying to woo pro-Israeli voters himself. (Which of course no political party would ever do, including the Conservatives, wink wink, nudge nudge).

    The Liberals are up in arms about these planted questions, and say it is going to ruin any chance Canadians have to hear real answers from politicians.

    The latter is already almost true. The vast majority of the time all you get from politicians is pre-approved talking points. Sometimes it's almost comical when you ask a question and get a talking point sent back that doesn't go anywhere near answering the actual subject at hand.

    All this tactic may serve to do is make parties a lot more careful about who they let into their events. The Conservatives already got into a lot of hot water in the last election for screening attendees at campaign events with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In at least one case two young voters were asked to leave an event by the RCMP after a search by Conservative staffers on Facebook found one of the students had posed for a photo with then Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff at a Liberal rally.

    But at the end of the day, politicians have to be prepared to answer questions, no matter who they are from, and own their answers.  


    One of the favoured strategies for Conservative politicians is to blame a Liberal-bias in the media for any bad press they get. The other parties will occasionally make similar accusations - I have in the past been accused of being a Conservative, Liberal and NDP sympathizer all based on the same story - but the Conservatives have made this criticism an art form and lately a fundraising drive.

    This week, after Colin Horgan, a former reporter for iPolitics and producer at CTV, announced he had taken a job as a speech writer for the Trudeau Liberals, you could almost feel the glee erupting at Conservative headquarters. Sure enough, within hours, out went the letter to Conservative supporters of the "see we told you they're all Liberals" ilk, and we need your money to help us fight not just the Liberals and the NDP but also the media.

    Members of the national press quickly took to Twitter to point out just how wrong that assumption is, since the list of Conservative MPs, senators and staffers who have come from journalism is long. Just for starters, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin, both well-known Canadian broadcast journalists who were appointed as Conservative senators by Harper. Not to mention Linda Frum, who was a contributing editor at Macleans and a columnist for the National Post, among her other jobs before being appointed by Harper to the Senate in 2009.

    At least five or six Conservative MPs list journalist as a previous occupation including health minister Rona Ambrose and former environment minister Peter Kent, who was a news anchor for CBC and Global among his decades long journalism career before he was elected to Parliament in 2008.

    Manitoba MP Robert Sopuck used to write a hunting and angling column for this very newspaper, although he does not list journalist as a former career.

    A glance at current and former staff lists of Conservative MPs, ministers and the prime minister's office produces a long list of former journalists, such as Dan Dugas, a former Hill reporter who took a job as director of communications for Kent. Or Scott Anderson and Derek Shelly, the former editors in chief of the Ottawa Citizen and Kingston Whig Standard respectively, who both have been or are speech writers for Harper.

    The list goes on but hopefully you see the point. 


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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.


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