In Canada, they call the job of sergeant-at-arms “ceremonial.” But as the Calgary Sun said this morning, anyone who thought it was an “archaic novelty now understands the man holding the sceptre has a deadly serious job.”
However, in multiple news reports, Vickers, 58, is already being hailed as a national hero who eyewitnesses say prevented a massacre that would have been nothing short of a national catastrophe.
By all accounts, the white-haired grandfather, a decorated veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, kept cool amid the chaos as dozens of bullets flew in the corridors, went to his office, retrieved his weapon and with a firm hand and a steely eye shot a killer before he could kill again. Vickers, who is 6 feet 4 inches tall, then walked away, gun-in hand, having “taken care of business,” as one news outlet put it.
And then he called his mother to say he was safe.
He is Canada’s “Sully,” Chesley Sullenberger, the hero pilot of the “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009.
“Thank God for … Kevin Vickers” and Canadian security forces, Justice Minister Peter MacKay wrote on Twitter. “True heroes.”
Members of the Canadian Parliament “owe their safety, even lives, to Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers who shot attacker just outside the MPs’ caucus rooms,” tweeted Craig Scott, who represents Toronto-Danforth.
Vickers is no stranger to guarding Canada’s political VIPs. As the CBC reported, he has served the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for almost three decades, including a stint as director of security operations for the House of Commons before his appointment as sergeant-at-arms. He’s also done security for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew.
With the black robes, black hat and ceremonial sword he wears to Parliament openings, Vickers gives the appearance of a man from another time and place. But he’s a thoroughly modern policeman. He’s worked on homicide investigations, drug-smuggling operations and oversaw Canada’s investigation into the tainted Red Cross blood supply during the 1980s that infected thousands with hepatitis C and HIV.
“Vickers brought with him a reputation for soft-spoken diplomacy,” said the Toronto Star. He “found it comforting to see fathers and sons tossing Frisbees on the lawn of Parliament Hill. He also spoke of how he didn’t want to see fences around Canada’s Parliament.”
“In America, security trumps all,” he told the newspaper. “I don’t think that’s the Canadian way.”
Yet when the time came, he was deadly serious.
“It’s so much in his character to take charge of something and do what has to be done,” former New Brunswick lieutenant governor Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, whom Vickers served as an aide, told CBC. “He is fearless in the face of a challenge. It didn’t surprise me that he acted.”
“I just couldn’t be prouder of him right now,” his brother John Vickers told the CBC, describing a man who has “always been committed to service, people and country.” It may seem heroic, he said, but “it’s Kevin being Kevin.”
Though perhaps not thought of as a prime target for terrorists, Canada remains vulnerable to groups inspired by al-Qaeda, according to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Vickers was ready.
“He actually did mock-up scenarios for the personnel … very much like what happened today,” Pierre-Yves Bourduas, former RCMP deputy commissioner, told CBC. “Knowing Kevin the way I do, he is very troubled by this chain of events.”
But Vickers’s work extends beyond shooting back when bad guys shoot first. He started with the Mounties as a constable in the Northwest Territories, then moved up the ranks in Alberta and Ottawa before retiring and becoming sergeant-at-arms.
During his career, he took a special interest in the sex trade, testifying before Parliament about its evils.
“I have personally investigated in the vicinity of a dozen deaths of young girls in the area of Calgary,” he told Parliament in 2005. “In a number of those cases, when you’re talking about exploitation, the girls were on the street having been hooked on and addicted to cocaine. Again, when you’re talking about legalization, from my own personal experience, I don’t think you’d ever correct the situation.”
When Parliament tried to ban the kirpan — the Sikh ceremonial dagger — in 2011, he defended the minority group.
“I see your wearing of the kirpan, especially in our Parliamentary buildings, as exactly that, respecting your dignity,” he said last year. “But just as the kirpan issue came before us last winter, we are reminded how vigilant we must be to not only defend but promote the practices, cultures and religions of all peoples.”
And he stood up for the rights of the little guy — literally. According to the Globe and Mail, he bumped a news conference featuring big-name politicos to accommodate a student tour of the House of Commons.
“The kids from Moose Jaw,” he said, as the Globe and Mail reported, “who saved their pennies all year must have the tour that they deserve.”
Still, compassion, open-mindedness and a soft spot for children don’t seem to have prevented Vickers from using deadly force against alleged shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
Vickers is “a very intelligent and responsible person,” his cousin Keith Vickers told CBC. “He’s a people person-type fellow, too, but you don’t want to mess with him.”
After such a crisis, some would have blabbed to reporters or otherwise reveled in the spotlight. According to a CBC reporter, Vickers called home.
“His niece Erin,” reported the Ottawa Sun, “says her uncle is a calm, gentle man — but someone who handles pressure with utmost calm. ‘He’s a thoughtful and considerate person — he’s halfway to a saint in my opinion,’ she said. ‘He’s a very capable human being.’”