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'Symbol of Freedom': Canada MPs Vow Open Parliament Hill

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Members of Canada’s parliament Thursday were met with barricades, fences, and security checkpoints a day after a deadly shooting rocked the nation’s capital — but some government leaders vowed “Parliament must maintain an institution that is open.”

Much of the area around the capital was blocked off, forcing pedestrians and commuters to navigate a winding route through the city trying to get around roadblocks. Downtown, a fence-hopper who tried to get past a barricade was quickly stopped and arrested.

Visitors were not allowed anywhere on Parliament Hill — a far cry from a typical day in the area, where throngs of tourists, yoga enthusiasts and protesters usually dot the front lawn. Even those with security privileges were forced to enter through one heavily-guarded checkpoint far from the front doors of Centre Block.

It was Centre Block where lone gunman Michael Joseph Hall, 32, who was using the name Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, was killed in a shootout with police, after earlier gunning down Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier guarding the nearby National War Memorial.

While the security provisions are temporary, there is mounting concern that any permanent solutions are put in place could limit Canadians' ability to enjoy the Hill.

"One of my favorite examples of how this parliamentary area, in and of itself, becomes a symbol of the freedom and openness of this great country of ours, Canada, is that every Wednesday at noon during good weather, we can see hundreds of people, multi-colored, doing yoga on the front lawn,” said Thomas Mulcair, leader of the Official Opposition in the House of Commons.

"It is a symbol of openness and freedom and the person who came here yesterday with violence on his mind and in his gestures did not win,” he added.

Mulcair also warned Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the government has no right to limit access to the Hill, which he called “a pillar of our democracy.”

That fight may brew in the coming days, as Mulcair’s New Democratic Party vows to oppose any changes that would limit public protest on the Hill.

The speaker of the House of Commons also vowed to improve security in and around the Parliament, while still making the area accessible to the public. Speaker Andrew Scheer also pledged a full investigation into the security procedures and responses that were employed after the unprecedented shooting.

“Parliament must maintain an institution that is open,” Scheer said, eliciting a huge round of applause from all members of Parliament.

IN-DEPTH

—Justin Ling

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