MPs return to caucus, Atamanenko retraces Ottawa attack

“I heard this noise that I didn't quite associate with gunfire.” - Alex Atamanenko

“What is a terrorist?”

This question was posed by British Columbia Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko after Wednesday morning comments from NDP federal leader Thomas Mulcair.

Mulcair was quoted as saying the perpetrator in last week’s shooting death of a soldier guarding the National War Memorial should be considered a criminal rather than a terrorist until all the facts are in.

“I have always associated the word (terrorist) with someone who belongs to an organization and has made plans,” said Atamanenko.

“I’ll go with what Tom has said. I think the investigation will show to what extent this goes, but it doesn’t appear that this particular individual was part of any organization. I think we have to be careful. You’ve got to be careful not to overreact to something.”

On the morning of Oct. 22, Atamanenko was gearing up for a day of political discussion when he says he heard a loud noise from outside the caucus room at Parliament.

“I heard this noise that I didn’t quite associate with gunfire,” he said.

“One of the security people came in and told us to get down. I heard more shots and we barricaded one of the doors and we were let out through another door that eventually led us to a room that was in the East Block (of Parliament). Then we stayed there all day.”

While sequestered in the East Block, Atamanenko says there were rumours floating around about the unfolding security breach outside the doors.

“There were rumours of someone with a gun on the roof, and even though we had people protecting us at the entrance to that room, you didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

“We were hearing rumours about someone on the roof at Metcalfe and Sparks, or there is someone in the Rideau Centre, so we had all kinds of uncertainty happening throughout the day.”

Through all of this uncertainty, surprisingly, there wasn’t an atmosphere of panic.

“The people I was with weren’t panicking, we were just in this room,” he said. “The room has windows and all the blinds were drawn. From time to time, we were told to get down and get under the table. I certainly didn’t feel any panic and we were there all day.”

A week later after the regularly scheduled Wednesday caucus meetings, Atamanenko says the atmosphere on Parliament Hill is one of healing.

“I think people have reacted to this differently,” he said. “Some have been more traumatized than others. We had a nurse talking to us in regard to suggesting that if people need counselling or help, that (the emotional effects) could go on for a number of weeks. It happened, and now we are back. I wasn’t particularly emotional. I didn’t react the way some other people did.”

Even though he didn’t get emotional in the moment, one part of the tragedy hit Atamanenko more than others.

“I feel for the two soldiers that were killed,” he said. “That is such a tragic situation, for them to either be run down or shot down. That is where I get emotional – having their lives taken away and their families who are suffering. There is a lot of healing going on there.”

Atamanenko says the show must go on and that is one of the ways for Canadians, including his constituents in the Kootenays, can preserve democracy.

“Let’s try and prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future, but life goes one,” he said. “It is a tragedy, so let’s get to the bottom of it. Let’s continue and make sure that our democratic values are preserved as we continue to investigate and debate this.”

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