Our hill

Two weeks ago I stood waiting to hear a lecture on World War One and Henri Bourrassa at the spot where they shot Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. I made small talk and tried not to gawk too obviously at the members of Parliament rushing about for the Iraq War vote.

Two weeks later, they killed a man from where I stood in the Hall of Honour.

The lecture was a free, public, open event part of a series to commemorate the start of World War One. It could have been held anywhere, but as the organizer was an MP, the Centre Block it was. It was in the Reading Room, used for, among other things, the finance committee and the opposition caucus, one of the forums that was attacked Oct. 22.

Parliament Hill is where abstract ideas — openness, transparency, and bilingualism — become hard realities in stone. Parliament’s door is physically open and bureaucrats answer committees’ questions in the Reading Room. Canada’s founding languages are carved into the gothic curves.

Freedom of assembly becomes protestors’ daily vigils on the lawn; freedom of speech the placards denouncing this or that injustice.

Parliament Hill is a living space, a worked in, played in place. Its lawn is for yoga at lunch, protests in the afternoon, and sound-and-light shows with grandparents in the evenings. The statues are for necking teenagers to hide behind and the benches for book readers. Its paths for wasting 15 minutes between meetings, its entrances good places to meet friends.

This life breathes air into our democracy, making our values and principles real, lived.

It means our liberties do not fossilize into the stones they are carved into. Parliament Hill is not a museum to our grandparents’ values; it is a monument to our current principles.

As horrible and shocking as the violence of this week is, more security and more protection on the Hill only starves it of this life. It only serves to put barriers between the people and the embodiment of their values. In an effort to protect our values, we could starve them of the daily, normal, mundane refreshment they need to be relevant.

We cannot allow this. Parliament Hill must remain the People’s Hill. A place not just for elected officials to have offices, but a place where all of us, every Canadian can enjoy fully our liberties – including the right to listen to a lecture on our history.


James Rimmer
UW Alumnus, History & Business, 2013