‘There will be no safe haven’: Libraries, Safe Spaces, and the Parliament Hill Shooting

At this very moment, one week ago today, I was sitting down in my Cataloguing class when I first heard the news. In dismay, after a whispered briefing from a classmate, I quickly checked my Twitter feed. In a series of tweets of 120 characters or less, and by clicking on a few links, I was soon brought up to date on the horrific events that occurred last Wednesday, October 22nd at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I read about how, at 9:52am, on a seemingly normal day of duty, a reserve, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, was shot and killed ‘in cold blood’ in front of the National War Memorial (Cirillo, 24, was a new father and only a year younger than me). I read about the volley of shots fired in Parliament’s Centre Block at around 9:54am and reports from witnesses about the dozens of shots fired in Parliament itself. Finally, I read about how one reporter saw a motionless body [the shooter] on the ground outside of the Library of Parliament.


National Post. Reporter sees body laying outside the doors to the Library of Parliament

Later, much later, after the resulting shock wore off, and after taking some time to mourn the loss of Cpl. Cirillo with the rest of Canada, I read this article, which gives witness accounts from inside one of Canada’s oldest and historic libraries. I read about how staff huddled behind desks and closed doors, putting as much distance between themselves and the gunshots as possible. I read about the bullet scars on the wooden desk in the middle of the Library and on the wooden frames, doors, and walls next to the library entrance- the same entrance where the body of gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was later found.


Bullet holes mar doors to Library of Parliament

0528 library pic-471.JPG

Library of Parliament in all its splendour

And as I read, it occurred to me that there was something else under attack that day on Parliament Hill. When Zehaf-Bibeau opened fire, he threatened the lives of innocent civilians, but he also attacked the democratic values that this country holds dear. Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: … freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” As Canadians, we have the right to feel safe and secure and to express our opinions and beliefs. However, according to the Charter, the expression of these ideas and beliefs must not harm others.

These same tenets are echoed in the core values that are fundamental to librarianship in Canada:

Libraries have a basic responsibility for the development and maintenance of intellectual freedom. It is the responsibility of libraries to guarantee and facilitate access to all expressions of knowledge and intellectual activity” – CLA, Statement on Intellectual Freedom (emphasis added)

Libraries, in other words, are institutions that represent these individual rights of Canadians. Furthermore, libraries have traditionally been construed as ‘safe havens’. They are places where differences in opinion are not only tolerated, but welcomed- as long as these personal ideals and beliefs do not harm others. Freedom of speech. Access to information. Intellectual freedom. These values are the lifeblood of librarianship.

Thus, on the morning of October 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau not only ended the life of a young man taken much too soon, but he violated our rights as Canadians to live in a free, democratic, and safe society. The scars that mar the desks and doors of the Library of Parliament, a library founded on the basis of democracy and freedom, are therefore symbolic, if not crude reminders, of this violation. They exist as a reminder that, even in Canada, no place is truly safe from the extremist views of others, such as Zehaf-Bibeau, who used violence to achieve his ends. Thankfully, at least most of the time in this country, in our schools, in our homes, in our communities…and in our libraries…we are safe from such violent protestations.

Thank you to all of those brave souls who stand in the line of duty to protect those rights that we, as Canadians, often take for granted. RIP. #PrayForOttawa

~ L


“Bullets mark Library of Parliament; gunfight broke out just steps from workers.” Ottawa Citizen, Oct. 24 2014. Retrieved from http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/bullets-mark-library-of-parliament-gunfight-broke-out-just-steps-from-workers

“Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982. The Government of Canada, Oct. 24, 2014. Retrieved from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/const/page-15.html

“Canadian Library Association / Association canadienne des bibliothèques Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom.” CLA, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.cla.ca/Content/NavigationMenu/Resources/PositionStatements/Statement_on_Intell.htm

“Canadian soldier shot outside of Parliament Hill: Timeline of Events.” National Post, Oct. 22 2014. Retrieved from http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/10/22/canadian-soldier-shot-outside-of-parliament-hill-timeline-of-events/?__federated=1

“The Library of Parliament.” Parliament of Canada, Dec. 2006. Retrieved from http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/Publications/LOP/lop-e.asp


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