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House of Commons Security Services preserve a delicate balance between protecting Parliamentarians and the functions of Parliament, and respecting the right of Canadians to have access to the Precinct and their legislators.

The development and implementation of a long-term plan is an important opportunity to address requirements for efficient and effective security, in particular a Parliamentary Precinct with clear physical boundaries. The plan must allow for a layered system of access control and a solid infrastructure for security systems that lays the groundwork for current and future requirements.


Security was an important consideration when the original Parliament Buildings and grounds were designed in the 1860s. The site itself was chosen because it provided a natural boundary for the Precinct, with protective topography along the east, north and west perimeters. The south boundary was marked by a continuous fence with clearly defined entry points for pedestrians and vehicles, and all entrances had wrought iron gates that could be closed in emergencies. The wide expanse of open lawn was itself a security feature.94 Inside the buildings, a layered approach was taken to security, with lobbies and vestibules acting as buffer zones between outdoor spaces and the important inner meeting rooms and offices.

Since then, the need for security in and around government buildings has increased substantially. Security services have become more sophisticated, responding to new challenges here in Canada and to events and circumstances around the world.

Over the years, a number of events have taken place that posed a threat to the Parliamentary Precinct. Past incidents include:

  • a failed bombing attempt in 1963 while the House was sitting;
  • the 1970 FLQ crisis;
  • a bus departing Montreal for New York being high-jacked at gunpoint and detouring to the front lawn of the House of Commons;
  • a Jeep driven up the central walkway from the Centennial Flame, where it climbed the steps of the Vaux wall and crashed into the front door of the Centre Block;
  • a disturbed individual parking a vehicle containing a makeshift propane explosive device in front of the west entrance to the Centre Block; and
  • a 1999 strike action in front of the Wellington building preventing Members from getting to their offices.
Following a careful review of each incident, the House of Commons Security Services instituted changes designed to enhance security practices. Policies, procedures and technological tools that have been developed and implemented to respond to evolving security needs include:
  • strictly controlled access and careful scrutiny of visitors to the galleries;
  • communication protocols to ensure coordination of security efforts among the various jurisdictions;
  • limits to vehicular traffic on the Hill and prohibition of buses on the Upper Drive;
  • alternate bus parking arrangements at LeBreton Flats to ensure a safe pick up and drop off point on the Lower Drive; and
  • the installation of vehicular deterrents around the Peace Tower.

Current and Future Situation

The Parliamentary Precinct is a primary target for those wishing to make a public statement about an issue or cause. Most often, these statements take the form of peaceful demonstrations in front of the Centre Block. However, recent years have seen an increase in highly charged demonstrations on Parliament Hill and a corresponding increase in the threat of violence.

Threat and risk assessments have demonstrated that the House of Commons has a high level of vulnerability to incidents but the level of risk is low. While existing security infrastructure addresses current risks, steps must be taken to ensure the Precinct is fully prepared to meet the challenges of the next century.

Clearly defined Precinct

A clearly defined Parliamentary Precinct is an essential prerequisite on which all other security measures are contingent. Current boundaries — as defined by the Ottawa River on the north, Wellington Street on the south, the Rideau Canal on the east and the Bank street extension on the west — create a significant vulnerability. The western boundary no longer has a clear physical definition.95 Members’ offices have been moved outside of traditional Precinct boundaries, into the Confederation Building, the Wellington Building (on the south side of Wellington Street), and the Justice Building (planned for mid-2000). Parliamentary committees meet regularly in both the Wellington and La Promenade Buildings. This situation creates confusion with respect to jurisdiction and has the potential to result in uneven service and response in risk situations.

Controlled access

The close proximity of parking to Parliamentary buildings is also a potential security threat. Vehicles are allowed unimpeded access to the Upper Drive of the Precinct without checks or authentication. Often, vehicles stop or park alongside buildings or in front of entrances unchallenged. Moreover, parking and traffic cause congestion creating a hazard to pedestrians. Construction on the Hill compounds the problem.

Information and technology

Maintaining the security of information within the Parliamentary Precinct is an important aspect of overall security. The possibility of electronic eavesdropping and information leaks has led to the adoption of standards for building renovations that provide a greater degree of privacy in Members’ offices, as well as in caucus and committee rooms.

There are strong links between information technology infrastructure and security processes. Recent and planned advances in information technology offer significant opportunities to implement necessary security measures and increase capacity in a cost-effective way.


While an open and accessible Parliament is a hallmark of Canadian democracy, these characteristics cannot be maintained without adequate security for Members, visitors and the public. Planning requirements for precinct-wide security measures, as well as specific requirements in support of each line of business, are set out below. These requirements take into account the three major components of security in the Parliamentary Precinct — people, buildings and information.

For the Precinct

All activities of a Parliamentary nature should take place within the confines of a clearly defined Parliamentary Precinct. The boundaries of the Parliamentary Precinct should be re-defined — as an immediate step, the western boundary should be extended to Kent Street.

There should be logical and coherent levels of protection that respect the traditional layering of the site for security purposes:

  • The boundaries should have a clear physical definition, which can serve as an intrinsic part of security measures;
  • There should be an adequate buffer zone around the buildings and the Precinct; and
  • There should be clearly defined and easily accessible zones for the public and the media.

For Members, staff and visitors

There should be appropriate access control and emergency response measures that address security concerns while retaining freedom of movement for occupants. These are to be determined on the basis of risk assessment and reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure they remain effective. The elements of the system should include:

  • A convenient means for Parliamentarians to access and move between buildings housing Parliamentary functions;
  • An access control infrastructure that separates legitimate access of people and materiel, and the various activities within the buildings;
  • An infrastructure that supports effective emergency response capability;
  • A remote site for processing and scanning incoming freight and mail prior to delivery in the Precinct; and
  • A secure and controlled parking facility that will eliminate surface parking in the vicinity of the buildings.


There should be an adequate technological infrastructure to meet current and future security needs. This infrastructure should:

  • Integrate and standardize systems across the Precinct;
  • Be simple to use and unobtrusive to occupants and visitors;
  • Provide internal security forces with external viewing capability;
  • Provide communication infrastructure that allows for immediate links with primary response partners;
  • Protect privileged information in caucuses, committees and constituency offices; and
  • Support the Sergeant-at-Arms’ responsibility for the protection of the Chamber.

To support the four lines of business

The access control measures and the technological infrastructure should respond to the particular needs of individual lines of business in the House. Specific factors that should be taken into account in determining requirements include:

  • In the Chamber, the possibility of protest or disruption, as well as the various requirements of a range of users, including Members, procedural support personnel, the media and the public;
  • In Caucus, the concentration of Members in one location and the need to protect privileged information;
  • In Committee, the close interaction between Members, the media and the public; and
  • In Constituency, a safe and secure environment in which Members can conduct their business and receive visitors.

Canadian Illustrated News

25-New Gates - 1876.jpg (9967 bytes)
Wrought iron gates could be closed for security, 1876.

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