ARGUMENT

A bomb-thrower protests: don’t blame parliament’s attendants for the lack of security; determined kooks like me will always get through

DAVID COWLISHAW July 2 1966
ARGUMENT

A bomb-thrower protests: don’t blame parliament’s attendants for the lack of security; determined kooks like me will always get through

DAVID COWLISHAW July 2 1966

A bomb-thrower protests: don’t blame parliament’s attendants for the lack of security; determined kooks like me will always get through

ARGUMENT

THE LATE Paul Chartier's abortive bomb assault on the House of Commons has once again left Canada’s meek band of parliamentary attendants cowering under a cloud of shame. “Why didn’t they stop him?” goes the cry. “We need tighter security, new policing methods, safer MPs.”

Well, I believe the squawks of outrage about our latter-day Guy Fawkes are all in vain. An army of vigilant attendants wouldn't solve the problem. No matter how fine a screen you throw up around the target, any kook with a bomb can gel through if he waits long enough.

I know, because that’s what I did before throwing my celebrated blood bomb two years ago. Waited. For the right crush of visitors (any old dog day won’t do—I chose August, counting on a jam of tourists to keep attendants busy); for the right eloquence on the floor beneath to divert attention away from my surreptitious activities; for the right courage.

And even then, as in Chartier's case, the plan misfired. The blood started to leak out of its milk-carton container before the proper launching time and I had to loft it into the chamber prematurely.

Still, it made quite a splash. They told me in court that the eight-foot blotch cost $50 to remove from the carpet. (1 was fined $75 and had to spend a night in jail because I didn’t have the money; a “sympathizer” forked out the fine the next day.) But, as in the Chartier episode, the biggest blotch was on the escutcheon

of the poor, underpaid, under-appreciated attendants.

This horrified maligning of parliament’s courteous, uniformed men is a ridiculous spectacle, surely. They are not policemen, after all, or bombdisposal experts. And for all their flint-eyed alertness, they are no match for the cunning of a misguided individual fired by a sense of injustice.

Bent on wrongdoing, whether a mild civil protest or all-or-nothing assassination, a man with a missile comes armed with that even more terrible weapon — surprise. You don’t know where it's coming from, when, or what form it takes. My own escapade (more symbolic than diabolic, let me say) is proof of that.

Calvin McDonald came to UNDERDOG (an organization I created to take up the cudgels for mistreated people) with the complaint that the RCMP had reneged on a promise to accredit him for more than ten years’ work as a spy in the Canadian Communist Party.

We checked, became convinced of the validity of his claim and decided that only something dramatic enough to rouse the traditionally lethargic Canadian public would move Ottawa to do right by the man. Accordingly, it was to make a symbol of the “blood of self-respect” that Calvin had figuratively shed for his country all those years that I fashioned my “bomb” from an ordinary milk carton and a quart of best beef blood, courtesy of Canada Packers.

On the day, Calvin and I walked into the Parliament Buildings through

the main public entrance; the loaded milk carton was upright in my briefcase. The attendants at the door took no notice of us at all. And although their colleagues at the entrance to the gallery itself glanced at the briefcase they didn't look in it — probably because I offered to open it for them.

Then, having passed the uniforms once and been accepted as merely a humble spectator of the proceedings below, I left my seat and adjourned to the same washroom where Chartier met his tragic end.

There I transferred the now-leaking carton to the inside of my shirt at the back and re-entered the gallery. The tension I felt wouldn't have stretched a rubber band. Presently the confounded blood began to creep down my legs so I whipped the thing out and over it went. Two attendants posted inside the gallery had shot me the occasional frowning glance as I wrestled with the back of my shirt but, such is the force of habit, did nothing more. And now I ask you: what more could they have done?

They could have taken a look in the briefcase, it is true, and perhaps such items should be lodged at the downstairs entrance in future. But how far does that get us? The milk carton could have been hidden on my person from the start. How do you find a

hand grenade taped to a man’s leg, for instance? Should we delve into the mysteries of a woman’s purse, or investigate the truth or falsity of the suspiciously buxom maid?

Surely the truth is that Canada’s MPs will always be vulnerable as long as there is a visitors’ gallery. The much-touted British system isn’t much better. In London anybody can enter the gallery by queuing up at the Sergeant at Arms’ desk and signing a slip promising not to draw or read. (The slip says nothing about bombthrowing or even creating a disturbance.)

In fact most British spectators circumvent the queue by obtaining a permit from their MP that gains them automatic admittance. (A somewhat naïve 1845 rule says British MPs “must take care not to introduce visitors they have reason to believe may create a disorder.”) Any MP will grant a pass to a constituent without inquiring too far into his motives. Indeed, Calvin’s and my own passes into the members’ section of the gallery that August day were signed by no less a person than Social Credit leader Robert Thompson.

The solution is not only elusive: it is non-existent (unless, that is, you want the nation’s business conducted by asbestos-clad men crouching at microphones inside fallout shelters). The fact is, the more a target bristles with protective devices, the more it needs protection. To a resourceful fellow with skulduggery on his mind, mammoth security is little more than a dare, a red rag to the bull.

In short, there are only two semifoolproof ways politicians can forestall the determined kook. One is so simple, beneficial, and in the long run, inevitable that it’s impossible to hope this generation of administrators would adopt it: televise parliamentary debates and close down the visitors’ galleries. The other way is even more impossible for politicians to accept: it’s simply not to arouse the kook’s ire in the first place.

DAVID COWLISHAW