This Blog post is being written on Monday March 30th 2015, the night of the Parliamentary vote to extend the ISIS mission. I am making the date clear because like all amazing blog posts it is a rant of an individual thinking he is pointing out a deep flaw in society that nobody has noticed but him. I wanted to see this vote and I missed it. I missed it and almost didn’t get into the House of Commons at all due to the, well, ignorance and misunderstandings on part of the Parliamentary Security.
I have been living in Ottawa for a few months now and was so excited before I got up here to go sit in the House of Commons Public Gallery and watch Canada’s Democracy happen. So excited. I follow Canadian Politics so intensely that I am actually more star struck when I see Canadian Political Journalists (talking about you Paul Wells, Kady O’Malley, Aaron Wherry, and Justin Ling) than actual Canadian Politicians (I would swoon if I ever got the chance to meet Andrew Coyne). I was going to sit in that gallery whenever I could and watch the debates happen.
Unfortunately working a day job means I would only get the chance to go in the evenings. And this evening I was going for sure. A vote that could be looked at as the turning point that led Canada to be engaged in another war? A political decision that might devastate the Liberals election chances and make it a Conservative versus NDP race? I had to be there.
When I approached the building I noticed that the public entrance to Center Block- where I had entered the House of Commons on past occasions -was blocked off but some people were entering through another entrance where a security guard stood and so I went to talk to him to see if I could enter through that door. Little did I know the complex process that would soon follow. I asked him if I could get in to watch the House of Commons. He said he was pretty sure they were closed and I couldn’t get in. I rebutted: I’m pretty sure they are open, there is a big vote today. He said he wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t get through this door because it was for some kind of special event, and members only.
So the security guard outside the Center Block didn’t know if I could go in. Now granted I was at the wrong entrance…but shouldn’t he still know where to direct me or at least if I was able to get in. He is a security guard. That is his job. He should know who gets in, and who doesn’t.
This has happened to me before. A few weeks ago I was denied entry as well. This time at the public entrance. The Security Guard told me parliament wasn’t sitting. I told him they were. He told me he didn’t think he could let me in. I told him I knew they were sitting and I knew that I was allowed to watch. So eventually he radioed in and after ten minutes or so discovered I was allowed in and let me go watch.
Imagine how many people he turned away. Imagine if I wasn’t pushy.
I know I probably seem pushy here. It’s not a big deal. Just a guy doing his job. Everyone makes mistakes. This is why I wasn’t too annoyed at the time. But what has happened tonight has made me rethink it all.
So tonight, I had to talk to two other security guards after this first one. The second guard couldn’t help, no idea if I could get in or where. He directed me to ask the third guard who he said would know. Does know anybody know if I am allowed in this building? You know, the one you are guarding? Thankfully the third guard did and he directed me toward the entrance.
The public entrance was at what I thought was the public exit from the building. All the other times I had gone to visit the House of Commons this was the entrance and not the exit. There were no signs telling me this. In fact all the signs I saw were pointing to the original public entrance I had used, which was now closed off.
I finally got in to Center Block. Only had to talk to four guards in order to figure out where to get in. This might be the security upgrade to Parliament Hill that was being talked about recently. Having security guards who don’t even know where the entrance is a brilliant way to mentally defeat and confuse potential invaders.
After getting through the security gauntlet of finding the entrance, I had to get through the actual security gauntlet of entering the entrance. This was easy, luckily. I went through security and then headed upstairs to the House of Commons. Up one flight of stairs through Confederation Hall and up one more flight of stairs and I would be there. But No. It’s not that easy.
I am about to go up that last flight of stairs when a security guard stops me and says he doesn’t think I can go upstairs because the vote just started. And you can’t enter the House of Commons when a vote is happening (A fact I didn’t know. Also time check here: It is about 4:30 at this point). I express my frustration and give him a “Did I just miss it?” He tells me he thinks so and I will have to wait about 15 to 20 minutes before the bells chime and I can re-enter.
I missed the vote.
I go sit in Confederation hall thinking about how if I had been able to save those precious few minutes of stumbling around trying to find an entrance I might have made it on time.
But then I think: Wait… Why am I assuming this guard knows more than the other guards?
Also he just said he thought I couldn’t go in.
No harm in trying right?
So I walk back towards the flight of stairs and tell him “I think I just heard the bells”
(Ok. I didn’t say it with that emphasis. I actually just really wanted to get in. It didn’t occur to me after that I had actually just bluffed my way past a security guard)
He tells me: “Oh. Ok. You can go upstairs and see if they will let you in”
So I go up the stairs.
To the next security checkpoint just outside the House of Commons (You know where this is going). You have to go through a metal detector and get your stuffed scanned before you can go in the Public Gallery. There are a few guards there. I approach and the one the guards smiles and waves me forward but then one of the other guards goes “I don’t think he can get in. There’s a vote happening….”
This however results in a lively exchange of:“Is there?” “I don’t know” “No” “Yes” “I think so” “Yes” “Maybe” “What?” “No” “What are we talking about?” among a group of four security guards. Which was actually quite hilarious and kind of swept away my frustrations as I realised how comical and just like a bureaucratic satire this whole thing was. Terry Gilliam would relish in this experience.
Luckily, a less ignorant security guard walks past and goes Nope. Vote’s over. You can let him in.
Thank God. But I still missed the freaking vote.
So they let me in. But they take my phone – which is what they do and I understand the reasons for that policy- BUT they also took my goddamn pen so I couldn’t write. They took my pen! Why? What possible reason is there for not allowing me to have a pen to take notes while watching the House of Commons?
I don’t understand that at all. If someone can explain it, it would be much appreciated.
I finally get in. Finally. Did I miss the vote? Did it even happen before I left? I don’t actually know. I left the gallery at six. I’ve been scanning news reports since I got home and I’m under the impression that the vote didn’t happen till 8pm. And I left because I thought the vote had already happened! Argh. The security guards…..
This is all part of a larger issue of there being no information about what is happening when in the House of Commons. The online guides are indecipherable and they don’t give you any sort of program or primer when you get into the House of Commons. Nothing. But I mean apparently nobody gets in.
The last few times I have gone to the House of Commons I have been the only public observer. The only one. There has been media sometimes (usually Aaron Wherry), but mostly it has been just me keeping an eye on our democracy. You are welcome Canada.
Ok. So that’s my rant. It was not a fun night, but it was interesting. I could do a whole other blog post on how shocked I was about how cruel some MPs can be to each other. How petty and un-empathetic they can be shocked me. I knew it was bad, but it’s really bad. Also I could do a whole blog post on why Irwin Colter is the only MP who acts like he is a democratically elected representative in parliament.
My advice is if you want to go to sit in the Public Gallery in the House of Commons you better be ready to convince a lot of security guards to let you in.