Security increased at key Ottawa sites, embassies
By DANIEL LEBLANC AND CAMPBELL CLARK
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
OTTAWA -- Authorities were still beefing up security at key government and embassy sites in Ottawa hours after terrorist attacks shook the United States yesterday.
As the day went on, police forces temporarily closed streets, evacuated some downtown buildings that house embassies, and reacted to bomb scares.
Still, it took three hours for officials to decide to close Parliament Hill to tourists and most traffic. Until then, cars and trucks moved freely and tourists kept filing into the Parliament buildings, many unaware of the catastrophe.
Most government offices remained open in the city as defence and security officials assured the government that Canada was not a target. A few closed when department managers decided to send staff home. Staff in offices like the Canada Customs and Revenue agency, next door to the U.S. embassy in the Byward Market area, were told they could leave early.
Denise Larabie, just one month into her job at Revenue, said she had never thought before about the danger that comes with working next to the Americans. But yesterday she looked repeatedly into the sky, wondering if any planes would be falling on the U.S. target.
At the Black Thorn Café, about 30 metres from the embassy, bartender Kelly Windover said: "People are calling and asking if we're okay. My mother called me and told me to go get my son and go home."
In the hours following the U.S. disasters, nerves were tense in parts of Ottawa, especially around the American embassy; some shopowners closed early, leaving scrawled signs on their doors.
Security was heightened at the embassy -- first with a few Ottawa police cars, then with increased Ottawa police and RCMP patrols, including officers who noted licence plate numbers on nearby cars.
Employees began trickling out at 10:40 a.m. as the consular section of the building was closed and non-essential staff were sent home. Spokesman Buck Schinkman said the embassy would not close completely, although the Americans and the RCMP were "reviewing our security posture."
Many embassy employees were shocked by the day's events.
"It's overwhelming -- just all the people that have been killed," one said. His colleague added: "It's probably not over with. That's the scary part. You wonder when it's going to stop."
Municipal authorities placed the capitol on high alert, shutting the airport, putting ambulances on standby, calling in off-duty security staff and putting all available police officers on the street.
Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli said "nothing indicated" that there were any immediate threats. But Police Chief Vince Bevan said authorities started co-ordinating their reaction as soon as the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
The RCMP sealed off an area around the East Block of Parliament after the discovery of a suspect package near the main door, but the bomb squad determined shortly that it was not a bomb.