Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms for the Canadian House of Commons who ended gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, is a proud Irish Canadian.
He called him “a great friend to the embassy and to Ireland, and a hell of a decent guy,” always happy to take Irish visitors to Ottawa on a tour of the parliament buildings, pointing out shamrock engravings and other details anyone else might skip over.
Vickers, 58, is being hailed around the world for his heroic actions.
The video below, from CBC news, shows him walking through Commons shortly after Zehaf-Bibeau was shot, gun still in hand. Contrary to initial reports, police now believe that Zehaf-Bibbeau, a self-radicalized convert to Islam, acted alone. He killed one person, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, an army reservist and father in his mid-20s.
Officials who were trapped inside the House of Commons after shots rang out on Wednesday immediately took to Twitter to thank Vickers for saving their lives.
MPs and Hill staff owe their safety, even lives, to Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers who shot attacker just outside the MPs' caucus rooms.— Craig Scott (@CraigScottNDP) October 22, 2014
On Thursday morning, as the parliament reconvened, Vickers received a standing ovation that lasted for two-and-a-half minutes. He was visibly moved by the applause.
Later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper concluded his speech by thanking Vickers for his bravery and crossing the room to shake his hand.
Vickers is originally from Miramichi, New Brunswick, an area with deep Irish roots. The city of Miramichi, some 600 miles across the country from Ottawa, calls itself “Canada’s Irish Capital,” and is home each year to Canada’s Irish Festival.
Kevin’s cousin, Keith Vickers, president of the Irish Canadian Cultural Association of New Brunswick, told IrishCentral that their ancestors arrived in Canada after fleeing hunger-stricken Ireland.
“Four Vickers brothers came over here in 1852 after the Famine and we filtered down from there,” he said. The family believes the Vickers came from the Wicklow mountains and possibly from Vicarstown in Co. Laois.
Keith grew up across the street from Kevin and his four siblings – three brothers and one older sister. He described hearing the news of the attack in Ottawa as an emotional rollercoaster.
“We didn't really know what was going on. I heard there was a soldier shot at the War Memorial, God love him, he passed away. I was listening to the radio when they said a gunman had run in to the House. I thought he might be after the Prime Minister, I thought of Kevin being there, and then I heard them say his name. I was afraid he’d been shot too, but within the next minute they explained what he’d done.
According to his cousin, Kevin exchanged fire with the gunman from nearby his office, ran out of bullets, ran back in to re-load, and then finally stopped him.
He said that the Vickers family, and his hometown of Miramichi are immensely proud of Kevin but not at all surprised by his bravery and quick thinking.
“He’d never be the first person to pull a gun, but he’d do it when it necessary,” he said.
“He’s always been responsible, he has great instincts. Whenever there was some kind of event going on, most people would take off or stand there and watch, but he would ascertain the situation and quell it.”
Police work runs in the Vickers family. An uncle was a police chief, another cousin is an officer, and Kevin’s son, Andrew, is a constable in Miramichi.
As sergeant-at-arms of Ottawa’s Parliament Hill, Vickers is responsible for overseeing the security of the parliament and the safety of those who work there. At the start of each session he carries a ceremonial mace into the Commons and sits in the chamber for the duration.
He was named to the role in 2006 after a decorated career in security and 29 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Vickers never shot anyone during his time with the RCMP, his cousin said.
According to his bio, Vickers provided security for VIPs including Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness, Prince Andrew. He also served as an Aide-de-Camp for the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick. He has received a number of honors, including the Queen's Jubilee Medal and the Canada 125 Medal, and has been recognized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for his "Outstanding Contribution to Drug Enforcement".
He is still remembered for his smart, compassionate and effective work as a police inspector, assigned to some of Canada’s most high profile and delicate cases, including homicides, national criminal investigations, international drug importations and a national investigation into the safety of Canada's blood supply. Residents of Burnt Church, the fishing town where Vickers was sent to help diffuse escalating tension between indigenous and non-native fishermen in 2000, recall his willingness to listen and to understand the situation.
“The inspector was a real community man,” Bobby Sylliboy, a longtime band constable with the Burnt Church First Nation told the National Post. “People around here, let me tell you, they hold him in the highest regard. He was this 6-foot-3, non-native guy, coming to our reserve — and even coming to our Christmas vigils. He was hard to miss. He was a Down East guy, just a guy from the Miramichi. But to us, he was the chief.”
As the RCMP lead in the early development of its "Bias Free Policing" policies, Vickers worked extensively reaching out to the leadership of Canada's Muslim community.
He has been a voice for religious and cultural freedom. In 2011, after the Quebec National Assembly banned individuals of the Sikh faith from wearing kirpans, the ceremonial dagger carried by baptized Sikhs, Vickers ensured that they would not be prohibited in the House of Commons. For this he was honored by the World Sikh Organization of Canada.
In his speech, covered by the Globe and Mail, Vickers said that he learned to respect and appreciate other cultures from his father, who often invited students studying abroad from developing countries to join the family for dinner.
He stressed that Canada had to be vigilant “not only defend but promote the practices, cultures and religions of all peoples,” to accept rather than merely tolerate.
"Am I going to tolerate you wearing the kirpan within the Parliamentary Precinct?” he asked. “No. As head of security, I am going to accept and embrace your symbol of faith within the Parliamentary Precinct.”
"As we go forward, we should ask ourselves what Canada should be when it grows up. We have a long way to go before reaching adulthood,” he said. The seizure of the kirpans at the Quebec legislature last winter demonstrates the challenges that 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 are the core values of Canada, what makes up the soul and heart of our nation?"
With his long list of achievements, wise outlook and now his key role in preventing the attack on Canada’s Parliament from causing further tragedy, Vickers is a national hero for Canada.
But those who know him say he is far too humble to agree.
“Everyone’s calling him a hero, but Kevin doesn’t think like that,” Keith Vickers said.
“To him, he was just doing his job.”
Canadian broadcaster Rex Murphy praised Vickers for his bravery.