University of Toronto Press
  • Negotiating Public Space on Canada’s Parliament Hill:Security, Protests, Parliamentary Privilege, and Public Access

This interdisciplinary essay shows how Canadian scholarship could benefit from a greater understanding of public space on Parliament Hill and the people who organize and use the Parliamentary precinct. It argues that the values and stories Canadians create about the Hill influence key institutional actors who in turn shape events and interactions that unfold every day around the precinct. While space on the Hill is heavily regulated, the precinct acts as a public space because many of the individuals charged with its management perceive and organize it like one, and because Canadians committed to saving abandoned cats, visiting the Peace Tower, or demonstrating for social change use it like one. Nevertheless, interventions by parliamentarians as well as multi-billion-dollar renovations necessitated by the precinct’s crumbling physical infrastructure threaten to reconfigure debates permanently about who can access the Hill.


Cet article interdisciplinaire montre comment les universitaires canadiens pourraient bénéficier d’une meilleure compréhension de l’espace public sur la colline du Parlement et des gens qui organisent et utilisent la Cité parlementaire. L’article avance que les valeurs et les histoires créées par les Canadiens à propos de la Colline influent sur les principaux acteurs institutionnels qui façonnent les événements et interactions qui se déroulent quotidiennement dans la Cité. Bien que l’espace sur la Colline soit très réglementé, la Cité est représentée comme un espace public parce que plusieurs individus responsables de sa gestion perçoivent et organisent celle-ci en tant que tel, et parce que les Canadiens qui souhaitent sauver les chats abandonnés, visiter la Tour de la Paix ou organiser des démonstrations pour favoriser le changement social l’utilisent de cette façon. Quoi qu’il en soit, les interventions par les membres du Parlement ainsi que les rénovations de plusieurs milliards de dollars requises par l’infrastructure physique en mauvais état de la Cité risquent de reconfigurer de façon permanente les débats sur l’accès à la Colline. [End Page 169]

In 1997, a man entering Parliament Hill’s Centre Block caused significant alarm. The reason for this was that the individual in question had neglected to exit his vehicle before making his entrance. The sight of a Jeep on the steps of Centre Block spurred a fierce but by no means new debate about security on the Hill. Following the disturbance, veteran political journalist Charles Gordon condemned calls to increase Hill security, arguing that how we manage public space reflects Canadian values: “[Protesters] don’t have to be walled off and searched,” Gordon wrote in Maclean’s. He continued, “[Instead] they can walk right up and chat with MPs [members of Parliament] and even ministers. They can demonstrate against them, in fact, on the very steps that the guy drove up. … Isn’t that great?” (1997, 11). Gordon argued that opening Hill grounds to protesters created a public space, one that was inherently positive for the country’s democracy.

Since the Jeep incident, other journalists and political commentators have also invoked the physical space of the Parliamentary Precinct to discuss broader themes in Canadian politics. For example, the decision to relocate the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) from the East Block to Langevin Block across the street during Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s mandate is cited as proof of the executive branch’s growing influence, a popular topic amongst scholars and journalists alike (Thompson 2002, A13; Docherty 2004; Malcolmson and Myers 2012; Savoie 1999; D.E. Smith 2007). Pundits have also interpreted legislators’ physical absence from their provincial or federal assemblies due to frequent prorogations as a sign of flagging democratic accountability (Minsky 2013). Such references have been relatively shallow and have failed to consider the grounds themselves, protesters, or other parliamentarians, however. Political scientist Margaret Kohn decries the work of political theory that, by focussing solely on speech and neglecting space, has “turn[ed] the public sphere into an abstraction” (2001, 76). A similar criticism could be made of contemporary discussions of Parliament Hill. Research on the architecture and construction of the Parliament Buildings likewise neglects any critical analysis of the use and management of Hill space (Phillips 1982, 2-6; Lawrence 2001).

This essay provides a foray into how political science and historical research could benefit from a greater understanding of public space on the Hill and the people who organize and use the Parliamentary Precinct every day. H.V. Nelles notes that studying Quebec’s tercentenary celebrations helped him illuminate new facets of history: “In this theatre, things I had only grasped in general ways or in abstract terms acquired an immediacy they previously lacked” (1999, 12). The same can be said of today—every day—on Parliament Hill, where the grounds and buildings provide space for surprisingly fluid debates about Canadian values and identity. For example, historian Matthew Hayday has demonstrated how bureaucrats used Parliament’s Canada Day [End Page 170] celebrations as a stage to deliver deliberately a liberal vision of the country from the mid-twentieth century onwards (2010, 312-14). Hayday argues that the content and conveyance of this message changed as bilingualism, the military, diversity, and regional representation waxed and waned. Like Hayday’s study, this essay explores what the deliberate management of the Hill reveals about Canadian values, be they calculated or spontaneous.

Instead of examining a specific event like Canada Day, this essay heeds Nicholas Blomley’s call to focus on how people move around urban spaces by asking how individuals and groups access the Parliamentary Precinct, and the managed complexity this entails (2011, 27). It also draws from John A. Parkinson’s examination of public space in 11 national capitals; Parkinson argues that true public space must be openly accessible, consume collective resources, have common impacts, and provide a stage for performing public roles (2012, 202-12). The public policy specialist found that Ottawa compared favourably to its international counterparts, placing behind only Berlin and Wellington according to these criteria. Indeed, Parkinson argues that the Hill itself stands out because its parliamentarians directly intervene to protect the public’s access (142). While Parkinson’s work provides a valuable starting point, this interdisciplinary essay nuances his claims by delving deeper into the day-to-day debates around Hill management and identifying the many groups and individuals who shape these discussions.

First, this essay looks at how the Parliamentary Precinct relates to theories of public space in Canadian history. While public space can help democracy flourish, it is also alive with different power regimes, conflict, and contradictions based on the assumptions and motivations of historical actors; this is true of the Parliamentary Precinct. Next, this essay explores the organization and use of Hill space in the early twenty-first century by considering how institutional actors interpret their role in its management. A 2007 Canadian government document claims that several guiding principles shape the Hill: the site’s symbolic role; its heritage value; the area’s natural environment; respect for the boundaries of the Parliamentary Precinct; accessibility; facilitating “harmonious” patterns of use; ensuring interconnections; and stewardship (Canada 2007, 6). In practical terms, however, individuals such as current House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers determine how these guiding principles are protected and understood. The values and stories Canadians create about the Hill influence these institutional actors, and they in turn shape the events and interactions that unfold every day around the precinct. Within his influential and contentious writings about social capital and political engagement, Robert D. Putnam claims that some protests are now “so routine that police and demonstrators [are] joint choreographers” (2000, 152). While Parliament Hill is often a choreographed place, it is also a space for negotiated compromise and accommodation. [End Page 171]

Sources such as parliamentary publications, newspaper articles, and committee hearings reveal four concerns that are frequently debated when attempting to manage Hill space. In his magazine article, Charles Gordon raised two of these concerns: security and protest. Parliamentary privilege, a set of rules unique to Parliament, is also a major consideration, as is public access to Hill grounds and buildings. When weighing the relative importance of these different priorities, institutional actors—including security personnel and parliamentarians—interpret their roles and responsibilities based on what they understand to be worthy and widely held national values. Parliament Hill’s ability to function as a public space is contingent upon the constant renegotiation of these values. Thus the Hill is a public space in part because many citizens, parliamentarians, and other institutional actors continue to treat it as one. Legal expert Jamie Chai Yun Liew argues that judicial interrogations of public space and protest should focus not only on competing rights, but also on those that lend themselves to compromise; a unique sort of equilibrium between such rights is often evident on the Hill (2012). That said, spurred on in part by parliamentarians’ safety concerns and ongoing renovations, mechanisms crafted to prevent violent altercations are increasingly weakening access to the Hill, endangering the Parliamentary Precinct’s effectiveness as a public space.

Public Space and the Hill

Framed by Wellington Street and rugged cliffs overlooking the Ottawa River, the Parliament Buildings sit atop a plateau and formal esplanade. Although East Block, West Block, and Centre Block with its iconic Peace Tower are the most recognizable elements of Parliament Hill, the greater Parliamentary Precinct comprises over two dozen additional buildings along Wellington Street and the Sparks Street Mall (Young 1995, 90). In practical terms, the Hill is used by protesters and other members of the public, safeguarded by layers of security, and accessed daily as a workplace by politicians, their staff, and civil servants. The Parliamentary Precinct is home to language testing facilities, press gallery rooms, restaurants and cafeterias, building maintenance operations, offices dedicated to parliamentary publications, fast-moving messengers and mini-buses, and translation, postal, and printing services. Its buildings are plagued by structural failings and continued asbestos hazards (Raphael 2012a).

The Parliamentary Precinct consists of more than a cluster of crumbling buildings, however. Like other highly visible historic sites, the Hill has become a map of a people’s cultural history, and everything from the statue of the Famous Five to the Eternal Flame exposes and constructs ideas of Canadian identity. Descriptions of the Hill frequently reach great rhetorical heights that have thus far gone unmatched by [End Page 172] funding for Canadian monuments and symbolic infrastructure in Canada’s capital (Tammemagi 2002, 2; Gordon and Osborne 2004). Still, the site’s widely acknowledged symbolic value accounts for why the content of Hill activities (such as seasonal light shows) can be contentious, and have even been linked to wider political debates about teaching Canadian history (Cook 2013, C1; Butler 2013a, 2013b). Similarly, when Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation began her hunger strike protesting the federal government’s treatment of her people, she did this from Asinabka (also known as Victoria Island) on the Ottawa River, sacred Algonquin land. Spence’s choice of locale, which is visible from the windows of some Parliament Buildings, underlined the juxtaposition between the Canadian government’s treaty commitments and her community’s struggles (Adam 2013, C2).

The Hill’s symbolic value is undeniable, but is it a public space? Public spaces allow for popular encounters and free speech. In Canada, they have been shaped by common-law rights of way, nuisance principles, and police powers. Understandings of the purpose of public space have varied over time as people and groups prioritized social interaction, aesthetic appeal, sustainability, security, accessibility, or unimpeded travel (Isin 2000; Blomley 2011, 8, 15). For instance, Blomley’s discussion of the regulation of North American sidewalks shows that the “distinct logic” of “pedestrianism” influenced urban engineers to promote “the orderly movement of pedestrians from point a to point b” for increased efficiency (3-4, 11). Public space has also been valued for its role in good governance. Kohn notes that public space and free speech are absolutely essential for successful democracies “because they disrupt the consensus that we have already reached too easily.” She writes that “while reasonable arguments often just reinforce distance, public space establishes proximity. … Provocative speech cannot be something that happens elsewhere” (2001, 76). Parkinson argues that this is particularly true of national assemblies, since decision-makers can much more readily disregard letters to the editor than mass demonstrations beneath their office windows (2012, 42).

Public space is not a twentieth-century phenomenon: Ian Radforth illustrates how the physical spaces of Upper Canada were host to violence and dramatic spectacles that consistently complicated political culture (2011). Historians like Craig Heron, Steve Penfold, Julia Roberts, and Cole Harris have likewise shown that public space has long been contested and controversial, home to tensions between public and private spheres, and possessing a purpose and identity shaped by many different stakeholders rather than any top-down assignment of values (Heron and Penfold 1996, 359; Roberts 2008; Harris 2010). A particularly striking example comes from Nelles, who observes that during Quebec’s tercentenary celebrations, the streets were home to conflicting ideas as French and English “armies” fought through historical re-enactments: [End Page 173] “I could see several different authors at work and many audiences making choices as to what they wanted to see and take away … more often than not we are plural, and opinion about identity and destiny is divided” (1999, 12-13). Similarly, Ronald Rudin found no calculated, monopolistic manipulation of historical memory while researching celebrations held in honour of Bishop Laval and Samuel de Champlain at the turn of the nineteenth century (2003, 4-5, 61).

Frequently, the rationale behind the organization of public space is ambiguous, and careful planning does not necessarily translate into ordered space. This is the case on the Hill: although a recent government document emphasizes its “cohesive order and unified image,” the Parliamentary Precinct’s organization is not so readily defined (Canada 2007, 23). Parkinson notes that the Hill’s spatial arrangements, like those at assemblies in Mexico City, Washington, Wellington, and Berlin, are more accessible and open than fragmentary, and support direct interaction between politicians and citizens (2012, 161). Individuals and groups can express their political views, commemorate past events, or simply relax with a quick game of Frisbee. In this way, Parliament Hill remains a liminal place, home to multiple messages, ideas, values—and even, occasionally, conversations.

Institutional actors also matter enormously in the creation and protection of public spaces. Peter Goheen writes that in 1840s Toronto, citizens, bureaucrats, and politicians all participated in changing the values attributed to public places (1994, 446). These values were not overtly “assigned or legislated by any government authority”; instead, citizens (primarily propertied White men) “were intimately involved in the process by which this visible and much claimed space acquired meaning” (430). Although Parliament Hill is administered and managed according to a key set of symbolic principles, it is worth asking how men and women choose to interpret these ideas. While supporting the work of parliamentarians, institutional actors such as current House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers also wield considerable influence in how Canadians access the Hill. A former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer, Vickers reports to Parliament’s most senior official, the clerk of the House of Commons, Audrey O’Brien, and answers to parliamentarians through the committee process.

While officers of Parliament such as the auditor general and parliamentary budget officer have garnered considerable media attention for their role in scrutinizing government, less is known about other staff serving Parliament (Thomas 2003, 287-314).1 Vickers’s duties as sergeant-at-arms have included controlling access to the House of Commons, preserving order on the Hill, and managing parliamentary buildings. Vickers follows a long history of serjeants at arms in the UK, where the monarch appointed the first man to the position for life in 1415; his role involved enforcing the orders of the [End Page 174] House of Commons (Ryle 1981). In the early twenty-first century, the Canadian House of Commons sergeant-at-arms acts under the auspices of the House Speaker and leads the Parliamentary Precinct services. Often former military officers, sergeants-at-arms tend to outlast governments of any political stripe; of the nine previous sergeants-at-arms, the average officer spent 18 years in the position, with the longest-serving, Maurice Gaston Cloutier, working 27 years in that capacity (Library of Parliament 2014a). Since his own appointment to the post in 2006, Vickers has interpreted his mandate according to values he holds to be important to Canadians. In doing so, he counteracts some of the increasing pressure to reduce public space on the Hill.


Hill security is more visible on some days than others. During newly inaugurated President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada in 2009, a crowd of hundreds celebrated and protested on Hill grounds as snipers watched from the roofs of West Block and East Block (Ditchburn 2009). President Obama’s visit heralded some of the most vigorous Hill security efforts, but testimony before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on 3 May 2012 showed that the site is regularly monitored and policed even on more mundane days (PROC 2012, 1105). Multiple groups share responsibility for Parliamentary Precinct security. The Ottawa Police Service has jurisdiction over the streets around the Hill, the Ottawa Paramedic Service and the Ottawa Fire Services operate on-site, and the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) is also involved. The Senate and the House of Commons have their own independent security services responsible for the interior of the buildings, while the RCMP handle the grounds outside. These organizations jointly maintain a secure facility in Ottawa’s east end, where security personnel monitor video feeds and strategize emergency planning measures (MacCharles 2013, A6). Although precinct grounds are technically the responsibility of the RCMP, Vickers notes that “through tradition and practice, the sergeant-at-arms has always been consulted” and exercises considerable control (2009). In addition, the various security services and the RCMP train together and operate co-operatively.

Hill security has not always been so strict: from 1930 until 1935, House of Commons Speaker and Yukon MP George Black casually shot rabbits from his office window with a .22 calibre pistol, publicizing a particularly successful day by calling in the media (Tammemagi 2002, 11). Numerous incidents during the last century, however, suggest that sound security is very much necessary on Parliament Hill (Fletcher 2011, A1). One of the most extreme examples took place during Question Period in May 1966, when Paul Joseph Chartier entered a men’s washroom outside the House of [End Page 175] Commons and accidentally set off five sticks of dynamite tucked under his coat; he had intended to launch them at the government benches. Lester B. Pearson, the prime minister at the time, was handed a note a few minutes later, and Question Period continued (Hanlon 2007; Ward 2012). Added threats to the functioning of Parliament come from cyberattacks and public health issues, such as the H1N1 flu pandemic (PROC 2009, 1129; Standing House Committee on Health 2009, 1630-45). Activists co-ordinating Hill protests through social media have further complicated Hill security and surveillance efforts.

Measures taken to address perceived security gaps have not always been well received. Audrey O’Brien, who also served as acting sergeant-at-arms from 2005 to 2006, took note of “a certain frustration on the part of members with the tangled, labyrinthine web of security forces, [and] security directives” during the meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on 3 May 2012 (PROC 2012, 1232). Vickers likewise receives numerous complaints from parliamentarians about disruptions caused by extensive security measures (2009). At the same time, concern about the safety of the Hill has been evident in Question Period and committees over the past dozen years, with partisan accusations that the other side—be it an opposition party or the government—has behaved irresponsibly. Following a security breach in 2002, British Columbia Reform MP John Reynolds alleged on 21 November that the office of the government House leader, a Liberal, had actively helped an individual gain access to Centre Block to demonstrate against former prime minister Brian Mulroney (Taber 2002, A8; House of Commons 2002, 1432). In 2006, Quebec Liberal MP Marcel Proulx was equally willing to play the blame game, albeit more vaguely, predicting that “the more the Conservative government is taking positions, for example, in the Middle East, the more a target we [on Parliament Hill] could be” (Vongdouangchanh 2006, 14). Three years later, in November 2009, a similar theme dominated Question Period as Tory MPs accused New Democratic Party (NDP) MPs of providing encouragement and Hill access to disruptive youth environmentalists (Delacourt 2009, A5).

While the physical space of Parliament Hill is used as a pawn in the heated terrain of political legitimacy, anxieties about security remain. After the Jeep incident, which notably occurred before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Charles Gordon decried the “security-obsessed … a small group who are made to feel more important by the severity of measures set up to protect them [and who] set up elaborate systems to keep the public at a distance” (1997, 11). This is not a new phenomenon: in 1969, high-profile protests spurred some Parliamentarians to request increased security, including metal detectors and bulletproof glass around the public galleries (Sethna and Hewitt 2009, 493). Contemporary parliamentarians have been equally quick to call for reduced public access in favour of security. In 2006, for example, Liberal MP [End Page 176] Proulx argued that “We’re still a well-run democracy but the [security] risks are heightened and we have to deal with that. It might mean going through an underground tunnel … to protect everyone on the Hill” (quoted in Vongdouangchanh 2006, 14). Six years later, Ontario Conservative MP Gordon O’Connor observed on 2 March that “this is not the 1800s any more [and] we have many threats of terrorism from all over the place. … There will always be difficulty in finding a balance between security and access” (House of Commons 2012, 1323). Parkinson argues that Canadian parliamentarians are some of “the most vociferous defenders of citizens’ rights to [Hill] access,” but a close reading of committee hearings suggests this is not always the case (2012, 142).

Recent events like the attempted bombing of the British Columbia legislature have encouraged journalists to re-examine the continued challenge of ensuring security and public access, often echoing law enforcement officers’ claims that increased security is inevitable (CBC News 2013a; MacCharles 2013); yet negotiations around Hill space show that such assumptions are premature. Although many MPs and senators have asked the sergeant-at-arms to adopt new types of security approaches such as those employed in Washington, DC, Vickers remains unconvinced: “A lot of the infrastructure stuff looks great, gives you that sense of security,” he observes. He asks, however, “How much safer are you really? Because from a critical thinking perspective it’s not necessarily [more secure]” (2009). Vickers questions new methods because they necessitate unacceptable trade-offs in accommodating other uses of the Hill, including public protests.


Outside the Parliament Buildings, protesters gather every day “to wave placards, shout slogans, and otherwise exercise [their] democratic rights” (Tammemagi 2002, 7). Unlike other legislatures that lack substantial space for protests (such as Minneapolis) or where protesters’ ground-level areas are extremely exposed to aggressive state police (like Bangkok), Hill protests occur on the pathways in front of Centre Block, which is currently home to both Houses of Parliament (Parkinson 2012, 43). High-profile Hill protests have included annual anti-abortion / pro-life demonstrations, semi-nude environmental rights activists promoting veganism, researchers protesting government funding cuts, and an offshoot of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. Demonstrators have also breached Parliament’s walls, such as when Greenpeace activists scaled West Block scaffolding in 2009 to hang a banner, and two years later when a rogue Senate page disrupted Governor General David Johnston’s first Throne Speech by holding a “Stop Harper” sign (Dawson 2013; Raj 2011, 2012; Mittelstaedt 2009; Fitzpatrick 2012). Even the airspace above the Hill is home to activism: an aerial Public [End Page 177] Service Alliance of Canada protest in September 2012 led to debates about the extent and surveillance of the Parliamentary Precinct’s no-fly zone (Pearson 2012). Canadian writer Hans Tammemagi notes that, in general, increased Hill security “is a good clue that something interesting is about to happen” (2002, 93). Testifying before a House committee on 8 May 2012, RCMP assistant commissioner James Malizia reported that more than 300 demonstrations occurred on Parliament Hill in 2011, with 12 of these posing “significant security challenges because of the violent or aggressive behaviour of some demonstrators” (PROC 2012, 1105).

Hill protest policing is largely characterized by co-operative, negotiated management and guided by the Public Works Nuisances Regulations (CUPH 2012). These regulations ban loitering and camping on Parliament Hill, making sit-ins very difficult. In order to protest or conduct other activities on the Hill, groups must apply for a permit and provide their contact details, an outline of their protest plans (including whether they require access to electricity or space for equipment transfers), and wait for at least 10 business days for permission. Permit applications are considered by the Committee on the Use of Parliament Hill, which includes speakers and security staff from both Houses of Parliament, in addition to the RCMP: “If someone wants to demonstrate on the Hill they simply have to fill out the form and see how it goes,” Vickers states. He outlines a collaborative procedure: “Each one of us has a look at it and we sign off … it’s a collective management of the grounds” (2009). After the committee gives its consent, Vickers and his team negotiate with protesters to ensure that their aims are met without disrupting parliamentary functions or parliamentary privilege.

This conversational approach contrasts with the RCMP’s response to previous Parliamentary Precinct protests. In their study of declassified RCMP files, Christabelle Sethna and Steve Hewitt focus on that organization’s surveillance of the Vancouver Women’s Caucus Abortion Caravan, a women’s liberation group objecting to a new abortion law (2009). In 1969, the activists chained themselves to seats in the House gallery; one woman threw a water balloon near Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s chair while another seized control of the Common Chamber’s translation service. Costumed in tidy, feminine apparel, the women successfully eluded the “gendered red-tinged prism” of Cold War surveillance that was endemic in the RCMP (Sethna and Hewitt 2009, 494). At that time, the Mounties could not reconcile preconceived ideas about male, Communist security threats with the women’s goals or their garb.

The police’s perplexed response to the Abortion Caravan is striking when compared with Vickers’s current approach to protests. On the Hill today, negotiations with protesters are normally straightforward. First Vickers, police, and the RCMP identify and arrange to meet the leaders listed in the application: “Now what would you like to do here?” Vickers asks them (2009). The objective is to balance security with the [End Page 178] protesters’ goals: “If we help you facilitate what you wish to do … to avoid conflict [and] disruptions and at the same time you get to do what you want to do to get your message across … is that something that is doable for you?” Sometimes the negotiations take days, but eventually a compromise is reached. When protesters break these rules, the application form notes, they are barred from holding events on the Hill in the future (CUPH 2012, 6). Protesters are further cautioned that “the RCMP remains on site 24 hours a day and is authorized to take appropriate action against anyone being a public nuisance” (3). For example, Conservative interns and staffers protesting against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in 2013 had neglected to start or complete the protest permit process, and left the area after the RCMP informed them of this (Raj 2013).

A recent compilation on Canadian social movements observed that “the hegemony of the liberal order” has consistently curtailed protest and activism (Hammond-Callaghan and Hayday 2008, 15-16). An attempt to bridge the gap between political and social historians, Ian McKay’s influential liberal order framework explains Canadian history as “in large measure the story of how the worldview of a few liberal men, living in a few southern cities, attained power over half a continent” (2005, 57-58). In McKay’s view, Canadian history involves the imposition of a “deeply rooted and pervasive” liberalism imposed upon groups, enveloping and ultimately subordinating other ideas and ways of life while fragmenting communities (53-54).

Can this liberal order framework and simultaneous reduction of public space be observed on the Parliamentary Precinct, and if so, how pervasive is it? On the Hill, protesters must clear their numbers and schedules with authorities, and confront limitations ranging from the size of their signs to noise level restrictions; hunger strikes require a permit and are only allowed on the grounds between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. (CUPH 2012, 4). Scholars such as criminologist Luis A. Fernandez would likely argue that this permit process, however peaceable, none the less promotes protesters’ “passive coercion” (2008, 14). Indeed, when the government implemented the permit process in 1985, its opponents, particularly Peace Camp activists challenging cruise missile tests, argued that these changes violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Evenson 1985, C19).

Nevertheless, it is worth emphasizing that despite limitations imposed on Hill activism, in practice when protests have overreached established conventions and barriers, punitive measures have been muted as other institutional actors such as the courts have stepped in. For example, in September 2011, roughly 100 people protesting the federal government’s climate change policies were each fined $65 and banned from the Hill for one year after climbing over a temporary fence to sit on Hill lawns. Even this minimal punishment was dismissed by an Ontario court for the 13 protesters who contested the penalty (Postmedia News 2012, A9). It is also worth [End Page 179] considering that the Hill’s clear protest rules compare favourably to their equivalents in places like London, where byzantine guidelines for police have led to haphazard and aggressive crackdowns on protesters without any real attempt at negotiation or understanding—including one farcical occasion when picnickers eating a cake iced with the word “Peace” were threatened with arrest (Parkinson 2012, 158, 167). As well, despite existing restrictions, Hill protesters regularly manage to promote their causes with provocative images, actions, and slogans. For example, members of feminist group FEMEN received extensive news coverage after protesting topless on the Hill to demand the federal government support a Canadian woman trapped in Saudi Arabia (Hill 2013, A3). As Parkinson writes, “scripted, purposive, democratic claim-making” encounters around legislatures can be valuable, even if they are mediated by specific rules, because they facilitate engagement and communication between politicians and citizens (2012, 165).

Activists’ political interventions are not always appreciated by parliamentarians, who tend to apply highly subjective criteria when judging a protest’s value. In Canada, pundits and politicians continue to distinguish between “good” and “bad” protests.2 The former align with specific agendas and therefore qualify for free and ready access to public places like the Hill, while the latter, espousing different causes, are critiqued for disturbing daily activities (Weinreb 2009). This distinction is problematic not only because it is highly subjective, but because “a primary aspect of a powerful protest is its ability to disrupt. If you remove this power, then the protest is less effective and perhaps less successful” (Fernandez 2008, 85). Resentment against such protests is not unique to Canada: around the world, disruptive activism is decreasingly tolerated by states suppressing public dissent (Fernandez 2008, 5; King and Waddington 2006).

On the Hill, Vickers has resisted such methods, arguing that violent crackdowns only beget more violence:

Rather than have … a whole spectacle of confrontation, we try to facilitate and find balance for protesters while at the same time not disturbing the functions of Parliament. … The whole mentality of rule of law [policing] is to get [the protest] over with … and then it just becomes degrees of losing; it just becomes worse and worse. When you’re dealing with these types of incidents there are many tools in the toolbox. The tool of last resort really is that enforcement tool. And when you bring that … tool out, no one’s going to win, people are going to get hurt, it’s going to look bad, and … it just doesn’t resolve the issues.


Prior to his appointment as sergeant-at-arms, Vickers policed dozens of protests during his long career as an RCMP officer and was lauded for outstanding service during [End Page 180] the Burnt Church Crisis, a tense dispute over Mi’kmaq fishing rights that began in 1999 (Nicholson 2006). For Vickers, Hill protests are slightly different: “My instinct tells me that when everyone comes here, they are so in awe of the space that … [protests lack] the same ferocity” as those sited elsewhere. Vickers acknowledges that Hill protests are inevitable: “When people’s economic welfare is put in jeopardy,” he says, “you’re going to get protests, and you’re going to get demonstrations” (2009). Protests might be managed and challenged by police, but they are still regarded as important to democracy. In other words, they are valued as an essential component of the Hill as a public space.

Parliamentary Privilege

As if balancing security and activism on the Hill were not complicated enough, Hill administrators must simultaneously consider parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege (or simply privilege), a type of parliamentary immunity particular to Westminster democracies, also governs movement and access on the Hill. Appearing before a Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs meeting on 3 May 2012, Audrey O’Brien explained that privilege “is absolutely central. It’s the beating heart of parliamentary democracy. That’s not something you toy with” (PROC 2012, 1224). Originally developed to protect British parliamentarians from the interference and aggression of powerful monarchs, privilege shields them from assault, insult, or threats within the House; it also includes protection from arrest in civil actions.3 In practice, this means that the House of Commons regulates its internal affairs and has unique disciplinary powers. Matters of privilege are brought before the House, and the Speaker must rule on them based on standing orders and practice. Recent prominent issues involving privilege include insults within the House of Commons and parliamentarians’ access to sensitive government information (O’Malley 2012a; McLeod 2012, A1).

Like Blomley’s pedestrianism (2011, 11), privilege creates a “distinct logic” for organizing space. Parliamentarians’ unimpeded admittance to the Hill is a central component of privilege, although it is often overlooked since it is readily achieved under ordinary circumstances. That said, parliamentarians have been personally endangered on the Hill and in their ridings.4 To ensure that this aspect of privilege is respected and guarantee that even without identification MPs and senators can bypass security checks, security staff are provided with small handbooks containing parliamentarians’ pictures and names to help identify them. Security also accommodates the hundreds of employees working in various capacities around the Parliamentary Precinct, and some aspects of privilege are formally extended to parliamentarians’ family and assistants (PROC 2012, 1122). [End Page 181]

Upholding privilege is only possible through careful compromise and negotiation. During his meetings with Hill protesters, Vickers is careful to explain privilege and how it might affect their activities (2009). He did this in 2005 when 16 buses of striking correctional services workers travelled from Montreal to Ottawa to bring their grievances before the Treasury Board president, whose office was located in the Confederation Building, next door to the Justice Building. Both buildings are also home to the offices of many other parliamentarians. Vickers recalls that “all of a sudden we had four or five hundred correctional services employees, many of whom had consumed alcohol, circling Confederation Building and the Justice Building banging pots and pans” (2009). Question Period was imminent, and security forces were concerned that MPs with offices in those buildings would be unable to reach Centre Block. Vickers and Hill security staff asked the protesters about their goals. As Vickers recalls, they answered promptly: “We have a speech, we want to read it on that doorstep, and we want to have the media around us.” Vickers assented, so long as the space in front of the Confederation Building was cleared in time for MPs to reach the House that afternoon: “So the protester gets up, the leader gives a speech, they live up to their word, and by 1:15 they’re gone.” The protesters were able to use Hill space to demonstrate, and MPs made it to Question Period on time.

Parliamentarians’ understanding of privilege has sometimes conflicted with Hill security measures. Nova Scotia Conservative MP Greg Kerr noted on 3 May 2012 that Hill security is often problematic: “We get frustrated over the levels and numbers [sic] of security activity, and I’m sure it must be a frustration for those who work in it” (PROC 2012, 1157). Potentially disruptive visits from foreign dignitaries are planned carefully, and staffers and parliamentarians are notified by their Speaker’s Office in advance; yet tensions abound over whether Canadian Hill security personnel have been subordinated by their international counterparts during these state visits. Debates by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on the relative importance of security versus parliamentary privilege in May 2012 were spurred by one particular incident that involved security officials contesting Nova Scotia NDP MP Peter Stoffer’s Hill access during the president of Israel’s visit. MPs on the committee recalled other occasions when they had been blocked from entering particular Hill entrances and exits, even after providing an identification badge. Security should not be able to stop or delay MPs, British Columbia NDP MP Nathan Cullen reasoned, because this could prevent them from reaching crucial votes. Cullen warned against MPs acquiescing to “more and more special circumstances where [we] are no longer able to just access a place that [we] need to access as an elected person in this county” (PROC 2012, 1204). Taking a very different tack, Ontario Conservative MP Harold Albrecht noted that he was willing to forego aspects of parliamentary privilege in favour of a more secure [End Page 182] precinct (1125). During these committee debates, Vickers sought to reassure MPs: “I can’t stress enough … the number of meetings we have with the RCMP prior to these events,” he told them. He assured the committee that privilege remained a priority: “We stress over and over again the importance of parliamentary privilege … and the importance of making sure members are not interfered with” (1148). Vickers’s emphasis on privilege contrasts with the approach of some of his international counterparts. In the UK, for example, House of Commons Serjeant at Arms Jill Pay controversially assented to the Metropolitan Police’s search of a Conservative MP’s precinct office without a warrant in 2008 (Costar 2011, 99-105).5

In Canada, politicians push back when they feel security staff have overstepped their responsibilities—and privilege. In the summer of 2013, one senator took exception to a Senate security directive regarding protesters on the Hill for the Million First People’s March, a rally to promote Aboriginal issues. “Avoid any interaction with the demonstrators,” an email from the Senate’s acting security director instructed all senators and Senate staff, in between providing details about the protest and Hill security barricades (O’Malley 2013a). Liberal senator Lillian Dyck, who had been planning to address the rally, objected to these instructions. Replying to the acting security director’s message and all of its intended recipients, Dyck emphasized the legitimacy of the march and suggested that senators and their staff might be interested in participating in the rally. Dyck further rejected the Senate security staff’s authority to “dictate to parliamentarians and their staff with whom they may or may not interact.” Although the senator did not explicitly invoke parliamentary privilege, the essence of her complaint was that security staff were interfering with representatives’ ready, unfettered movement around the Parliamentary Precinct. Through debates about privilege, contemporary politicians are active players in the negotiation of public space on the Hill.

Public Access

Inside the Parliament Buildings, expectations are a little different. Members of the public can enter Centre Block with tickets for free public tours or Question Period; the Parliament of Canada website warns that visitors should “expect delays” during obligatory security screening (Library of Parliament 2014b). People hoping to access Parliament for other reasons must provide photo identification before passing through security stations. Parkinson notes that, unlike their counterparts in countries like Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand, Canadians frequently “traipse to the capital” and arrange visits to their representatives’ Hill offices (2012, 141). Parliamentarians have a range of additional options for hosting visiting constituents, including access to reception halls, meals in the various cafeterias, and private visits to the House [End Page 183] of Commons and Senate. Lobbyists from industry and non-governmental organizations have regular, privileged access to parliamentarians’ offices and committees, although this lobbying is frequently scrutinized (McGregor 2012).

The Parliamentary Precinct’s grounds were not initially intended to act as a public gathering place: none of the site’s original 1859 design submissions include any prominent mention of public space for visitors (Young 1995, 127-42). Still, ordinary Canadians’ access to the Hill is not a twentieth-century phenomenon. In September 1860, Centre Block’s cornerstone “was laid with great ceremony” by the future King Edward VII as “bullocks and sheep were roasted whole upon the government ground and all comers were feasted” (Bureau 1867, 13). Since then, the Parliamentary Precinct has been transformed by renovation and fire, and eroded by salt, pollution, and extreme weather (Lawrence 2001, 15). It is now substantially more regulated than in 1860: sheep and public barbecues are banned, and mid-nineteenth-century Canadians might have been bemused to learn that wedding receptions, balloons, tractors, boats, and trains are now equally unwelcome on Hill grounds (CUPH 2012, 3-5).

A number of formal and informal public activities do take place on the Hill, however, including guided tours, Mosaika (a free summer light-and-sound show), carillon concerts, MP soccer tournaments, Frisbee games, picnics, Lululemon-sponsored yoga, and of course the annual Canada Day celebrations discussed by Matthew Hayday (Library of Parliament 2014c, 2014d; Lululemon 2013). Until its recent closure, tourists and locals also visited an abandoned cat sanctuary supported by local volunteers (K. Smith 2013). The variety of these uses suggests that Hill administrators exercise a fair degree of flexibility when interpreting precinct regulations.6 For instance, the rules state that “organized sports are not permitted,” yet parliamentarians and their staffers take part in amateur sports tournaments in front of Centre Block, and Frisbee or corporate-sponsored yoga is a common sight (CUPH 2012, 3).

Parliament also acts as a virtual public space. A “Hill Cam” now provides an image of Hill grounds, while Google Maps shows some of the most important rooms and corridors in Centre Block (Public Works and Government Services 2014; Google 2013). The Internet has increased public access through live streamed committee hearings that supplement existing television coverage available via the Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC). A comprehensive resource of parliamentary legislation (LEGISinfo) and an upgraded Hansard website make parliamentary data available online, although some critics chide the slow pace of this modernization (Burk, Graham, and McCandless 1994; Niemczak and Hobbins 2004; Levitz 2012). Online coverage of parliamentary activities from journalists with Hill press passes, especially Kady O’Malley’s comprehensive committee liveblogs, has also opened an up-to-the-minute window to the complexities of parliamentary procedure and policy debates (O’Malley 2012b). A [End Page 184] growing number of parliamentarians use the Internet to engage with constituents, most notably through Twitter (employed enthusiastically by senior Tory cabinet minister Tony Clement) and online competitions like the NDP’s “Create your Canada” youth legislative challenge (O’Malley 2011; Crowder 2012). In addition, cultural productions such as the CBC radio play Backbencher and Terry Fallis’s bestselling novel The Best Laid Plans have introduced Canadians to life on the Hill through the eyes of fictional MPs (Lill 2010; Fallis 2008).

These openings offer Canadians a fresh window on Parliament, even as parliamentarians question existing public access. In addition to pointing out security concerns, parliamentarians frequently seek to limit access to the Hill in favour of partisan or political uses. Canadian politicians have allegedly asked security staff to act as “media wranglers,” by limiting or blocking journalists’ access to Parliamentary Precinct resources (O’Malley 2013b). Hill space is also exploited for partisan purposes: the failure of prominent MPs, including Tom Mulcair and Eve Adams, to stop at precinct stop signs has become fodder for Question Period, while a rally against a Liberal opposition leader was secretly organized by the PMO (Berthiaume 2013; CBC News 2013b; Raj 2013).

In some cases, Kevin Vickers has intervened to protect public access in his capacity as sergeant-at-arms. Several years ago, Vickers faced off with high-ranking partisan staff seeking to use Centre Block’s Hall of Honour for a political press conference, despite the fact that plans had already been made for schoolchildren from Saskatchewan to tour the space at that time. Balancing both requests was a challenge, but Vickers gave priority to the school visit. Behind Vickers’s decision was the rationale that Parliament should be accessible to all Canadian citizens:

The other thing people don’t realize … is that this building is not a government building. It is not government. This is legislative, this is Parliament. And it’s a pretty hard message to give to … certain people … [that] the kids from Moose Jaw … who saved their pennies all year must have the tour that they deserve. That’s one of the challenges you face.


The importance of public access underpins how Vickers approaches his work. When assessing changes to Hill security, he asks himself, “Number one, is it going to make [the Hill] any safer? Number two, what does it do to intimidate or not intimidate people to come here?” Vickers evokes a notion of political space, the commons: “I think it’s fundamental to our democracy that citizens have access to their place, their building. This is a House of Commons, and it’s for the commoners” (2009). [End Page 185]

Vickers is conscious of the impact of his decisions, and the weight they have on Canadians’ relationship to the Hill. He reasons that as

we go forward, we should ask ourselves what Canada should be when it grows up. … Challenges … lay before us as we continue on this journey of sewing together the fabric of our nation with the thread of multiculturalism. Perhaps it would be beneficial for our country, as a nation, to define its core values. What… makes up the soul and heart of our nation?

For Vickers, these values include acceptance rather than tolerance. His convictions have led him to intervene when he feels such values require protection. For example, in early 2013, 3,000 protesters rallied on the Hill in support of Idle No More, a movement to empower First Nations and overhaul their relationship with the Canadian government. Protesters hoped to bring sacred tobacco and sweetgrass into the House, but security protocols limited their access. Nevertheless, Vickers stepped forward to take part in a formal exchange of tobacco with Chief Isadore Day of the Serpent River First Nation. During the impromptu ceremony, Vickers referred to his 15 years working with First Nations communities and expressed sympathy for the protesters’ aims. Although his security regulations would not allow their entrance into the Chamber, Vickers and First Nations leaders fashioned a compromise that recognized the complexity of Aboriginal–settler relations in Canada (Rabey 2013). Likewise, Vickers has intervened to promote religious diversity on the Hill. In 2011, the Quebec National Assembly banned the kirpan, a Sikh ceremonial dagger, and the Bloc Québécois argued that Ottawa should do the same. Vickers instead moved to ensure kirpans were allowed on the site: “As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct,” Vickers explained to a group of Sikh Canadians following his decision (Taber 2011, A4).

That said, negotiation and Vickers’s direct interventions can only go so far when confronted with Parliament Hill’s deteriorating physical infrastructure. Multi-billion-dollar renovations threaten to reconfigure debates permanently about who can access the Hill. In a series of rolling five-year plans that began in 2002, different sections of the Parliamentary Precinct are set for repair and reconstruction. In 2017, the House of Commons will temporarily relocate to West Block to accommodate this work. Future plans do attempt to integrate contemporary expectations of public space, emphasizing that “the openness, accessibility and security of the public spaces are representative of the values treasured and celebrated by all Canadians” (Canada 2007, 5). Change, the document continues, “needs to occur in a way that balances the evolving functional needs of parliamentarians and other users with the overriding commitment to preserve the historic, environmental and symbolic primacy of the site” (5). MP Proulx’s [End Page 186] predictions of underground tunnels will soon be realized, however: the rehabilitated Parliamentary Precinct will further limit existing pedestrian and vehicle access points by erecting additional barriers, both fixed and retractable, at the remaining entrances. One local critic of the plan compared the future site to a fortress or prison (Fletcher 2011). Parkinson argues that the Hill stands out compared to other restrictively barricaded assemblies, but future renovation plans may make its openness a thing of the past (2012, 140).

Construction works are problematic not only because they could reduce public access, but also because associated changes threaten to make Hill visitors passive obstacles to be managed rather than active citizens expressing themselves in a public space. As numerous scholars warn, online political participation can never effectively take the place of increasingly scarce, underfunded, and threatened traditional public spaces like legislatures and public squares (Parkinson 2012, 68, 204-5; Mitchell 2005; Frey 2007; Blomley 2011, 19). Access to democratic institutions requires more than bricks and mortar; as Charles Gordon suggests, people’s interactions on the Hill matter. Parkinson challenges national assemblies to find ways for individuals and groups to engage with the places not only as tourists, learners, or consumers, but as democratic citizens (2012, 145); but Canadians have few avenues to participate actively in decisions about the precinct. Ottawa NDP MP Paul Dewar believes planners should prioritize making the Hill “a place where the citizens can still engage their members of Parliament reasonably” (Vongdouangchanh 2006, 14). Instead, the MP argues, Hill management remains opaque and inaccessible to the public. For example, House of Commons Board of Internal Economy meetings have a major impact on Hill management but remain closed to the public and go unrecorded. Responsibility for cultural events on the Hill passed from the National Capital Commission (NCC) to Canadian Heritage in 2013, which will further complicate decisions around site access and content (Butler 2013a). Without a transparent conversation about expectations for the precinct, it is hard to know how Parliament might maintain its uneasy balance between a national symbol and a public space. Researching past management of the site is also challenging: Sethna and Hewitt note that accessing archived materials relating to policing, surveillance, and the RCMP is increasingly difficult due to restrictions (2009, 465).

Discussions of Hill space in the media frequently include comments about the inevitability of increased security and reduced public access (MacCharles 2013). These assumptions are problematic because in the past, management of Hill grounds has engendered a constantly negotiated form of public space. Such ambiguity has provided openings for future compromise and room for individuals like Kevin Vickers to interpret their roles in ways that encouraged access and interaction. Assumptions [End Page 187] that increased security and renovations necessitate a more closed precinct obscure this history of negotiation and compromise, and the window of officially sanctioned activities open to Canadian citizens on the Hill closes. In the words of journalist and historian Mark Bourrie, a less accessible Hill will shutter “the physical incarnation of democracy” and its spirit (2011).


Greg Dening writes that the stories we tell each other define us, and that we habitually inject the world around us with cultural constructs (1993). Interventions by institutional actors based on their interpretation of what the Parliamentary Precinct should provide to Canadian citizens and politicians ensure that the Hill is more than lovely old buildings replete with politicians framed by protesters holding placards in the background. Instead, the Hill acts as a public space because people like Kevin Vickers and Audrey O’Brien perceive and organize it like one, and because Canadians committed to saving abandoned cats or demonstrating for social change have used it like one. Thus Charles Gordon was correct when he observed that the management of Parliament Hill reflects Canadian values. Based on very specific stories about what Canadian public space should look like, hundreds of different individuals and organizations continue to renegotiate Hill security, protests, privilege, and public access. That said, the decline of “common space” identified by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, as well as the many small grievances that persist over the allocation of parliamentarians’ office space, suggest that the Parliament buildings can manifest the opposite qualities of a public space, becoming intractably divided and silent (Manning 2011, 10-16; Raphael 2012b; Bruno 2011).7

The Hill remains an organized forum through the various rules and regulations that increasingly restrict and control precinct activities. For some scholars, this organization might be ample proof of a hegemonic liberal order increasingly subordinating legitimate opposition and alternatives. Even within Parkinson’s study, which flagged the Hill as one of the more accessible assemblies, Parliament is only one of “the best of a bad lot, and far from the ideal” (2012, 217). Indeed, this essay showed that ongoing renovation and construction works have redoubled calls in favour of a heavily policed and inaccessible Parliamentary Precinct. Instead of providing an opportunity for a free and open discussion of what Canadians want and expect, these construction efforts endanger the precinct’s value as a public space. Still, this essay makes the case for cautious optimism. Parliament Hill is not an example of a dominant state censoring its opponents, but one of dialogue between multiple actors. Although Kevin Vickers perceives protests as disruptive, he believes them to be necessary disruptions that can [End Page 188] and should be at least partially accommodated while still permitting other uses of the Parliamentary Precinct to continue relatively unimpeded. Hill security forces attempt to maintain the public’s access to the legislature and parliamentary privilege despite numerous safety concerns.

A further line of inquiry involves assessing why people access the Hill to protest, celebrate, and visit. This invites some intriguing comparisons about how public behaviour, accessibility, and activities on Parliament Hill compare with those in other public spaces, including parks, central squares, and provincial and territorial legislatures across Canada. Additional work comparing how different countries value and balance their public space would also provide a novel and potentially illuminating approach to comparative politics. Vickers is not unique in many of his goals; a former New Zealand speaker likewise emphasized balancing the public’s right of access and maintaining the site as a workplace (Parkinson 2012, 137). After identifying different approaches taken by parliamentary democracies in organizing their legislatures, such as those flagged by Parkinson, further research is needed to account for these variations. Finally, journalist John Geddes’s musings over the politicized siting of a new memorial near East Block suggest discussions about symbolism and history on the Hill continue unabated and deserve more attention (2012).

During his interview for the post, Vickers promised that if chosen as sergeant-at-arms, “there would be no walls built around Canada’s Parliamentary buildings” (Taber 2011). Throughout his tenure, he has attempted to keep this promise by supporting the Hill as a public space. How robust is this balance? Will Parliament’s reconstruction and a new sergeant-at-arms change the equilibrium, and would change necessarily be problematic for the institution and Canadians? Vickers meets regularly with other sergeants-at-arms across Canada to discuss best practices (2009), so this will likely ensure some philosophical continuity for his successors; yet some parliamentarians’ responses to security measures and the sheer scale of ongoing renovations to the Parliamentary Precinct lead to some troubling but by no means new questions: what does it mean if Canadian public spaces are devoid of people, and if there is increased distance between citizens and their elected representatives, a distance created by the politicians themselves? If Canadian democracy is not strong enough to withstand the presence of a few dozen, hundred, or even thousand peaceful protesters and tourists at the symbolic and political centre of the country, then there is something wrong with it. As Kevin Vickers argues, if Parliament is completely secure, “and no one wants to come here, what have you accomplished?” (2009). [End Page 189]

Anne Dance

Anne Dance recently completed her doctorate at the University of Stirling, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar. She is currently writing an environmental history of Winnipeg Free Press agriculture editor E. Cora Hind and completing a book on the reclamation of the Athabasca oil sands and the Sydney tar ponds.


The author would like to thank the Journal of Canadian Studies’s anonymous reviewers for their many helpful comments. An earlier draft of this article was written for the Parliamentary Internship Programme, which is generously funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and other sponsors. The author appreciates the assistance of her intern cohort, Garth Williams, Joanne Cartwright, Library of Parliament staff, Hill employees, and of course Kevin Vickers. Feedback from the 2009 Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences proved invaluable, as did guidance from Rachelle Audet, Kate Buchanan, John Dance, Mark Dance, Teresa Devor, Tim Howlett, Lisa Kuncewicz, Rhea Laube, Ilana Ludwin, Peter Lynch, Darren McCauley, Alasdair Ross, Emily St. Denis, Theresa Wallace, and Matthew Woodbury. Thanks also to the writer’s history cohort and faculty advisors at the University of Stirling, the University of Victoria, and St. Thomas University, especially Sheila Andrew, Rusty Bittermann, Mike Dawson, and Catherine Mills.

1. Former auditor general Sheila Fraser featured prominently in the Canadian media following her scathing report on the federal Liberal Party’s sponsorship scandal, while former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page made national headlines when his requests for departmental information were stymied and rejected by the governing Conservatives.

2. In 2009, for example, former Public Security minister Stockwell Day used a missive to constituents to express his frustration with Tamil-Canadian demonstrators calling for the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War. Objecting to their methods (blocking roads in Toronto), Day raised the spectre of a new trend of “law breaking [sic] protest” and expressed hope “that we as citizens have what it takes … to stem the tide of these troublesome waters,” arguing that “our famous Canadian stability, and freedom, depends on it” before lauding Canadian stoicism during the Great Depression (Day 2009).

3. An explanation of the limitations and development of parliamentary privilege can be found in Chapter 3, “Privileges and Immunities,” of the House procedural manual (O’Brien and Bosc 2009). Andrew Heard’s work explores Canadian debates about parliamentary privilege and the expulsion of parliamentarians from Parliament (1995, 380-406). In extreme cases, foreign iterations of parliamentary privilege have been used by politicians to escape legal justice. The case of Sergei Mavrodi is particularly alarming and tragic: the Russian man deliberately purchased a seat in the Russian Parliament to avoid prosecution for financial fraud, and later died in a shooting after murdering two women (Boylan and Newcombe 1997).

4. For instance, a mentally ill constituent harassed Ontario Liberal MP John O’Reilly in 2002 and made threatening calls to the MP’s office up to 15 times a day. The man also stalked O’Reilly on Hill grounds (Taber 2002, A8).

5. Police even removed the British MP’s computer hard drive and phone records, information that fell under privilege. A previous warrant actually disallowed such decisions, since protocol for police searches gave the Speaker of the House rather than the Serjeant at Arms authority to grant permission for searches (Costar 2011, 99-105). [End Page 190]

6. Although it is primarily managed by the National Capital Commission, other contributors to Parliamentary Precinct planning include the Supreme and the Federal courts, the Courts Administration Service, Library and Archives Canada, the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, the RCMP, the Treasury Board Secretariat, and the City of Ottawa (Standing House Committee on Government Operations and Estimates 2008; Canada 2007, 19).

7. Preston Manning recalls that the Parliamentary Restaurant in Centre Block previously promoted “cross pollination” and congeniality between parliamentarians of every party stripe. Created primarily to provide food and and a workspace for MPs and senators in the evening, the restaurant served as a fragile, limited form of public space, allowing parliamentarians to share ideas and connect across party lines. Manning notes that in more recent years, when meals were served in lobbies (long annexes located immediately outside the Chamber, divided by political parties), this camaraderie ceased, and the restaurant was reduced to a space for entertaining visitors. The division of House office space can be equally problematic. Offices within the primary Parliament buildings are allocated according to relative influence amongst parties and negotiations are mediated by the House and Senate speakers. In 2012, when the four-person Bloc Québécois caucus was granted a free-standing closet in the House opposition lobby, British Columbia Green Party MP Elizabeth May objected because this blocked a bust of Agnes Macphail. Later in the year, the Liberal Party decided to share its designated lobby space with Bloc Québécois MPs and May, all of whom—lacking official party status—would otherwise have gone without seating.


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