The importance of getting breaking news right following gunfire attacks on the military

There’s a reason information dissemination needs to be centralized when a soldier and a gunman are shot in Ottawa, and there’s a collective, Canadian breath-holding going on.

I woke up this morning to CBC radio’s live reports and heard a national reporter say all Canadian Forces bases across the country were in lockdown mode and military personnel and their families were being told to stay indoors. Immediately, I thought of the people I know in Yellowknife who work at Joint Task Force North headquarters, and their families.

The CBC was also reporting that legislatures across the country were on some sort of high alert, and that Queens Parks in Ontario was possibly shutting down.

Since our office is right across the street, I thought I’d walk over to see if JTFN here was experiencing any ripple effect from both Monday’s hit-and-run killing of a Quebec soldier, and today’s fatal shooting at the War Memorial and the spray of gunfire inside Parliament.

There was a line of yellow caution tape around parts of the parking lot, but I saw two men just duck under it and exchange a few words with the heavy equipment operators digging out the asphalt. I tripped on some construction materials, and quickly concluded this was “watch your step” renovation tape, not indication of a lockdown.

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Don’t cause undue panic

There was a friendly soldier at the front door, who brought me in and introduced me to the public affairs officer, Capt. Dennis Power. He was telling me that in situations like today, it’s important for the media not to cause undue panic…to get the right information out. But I was not allowed to tell you that, because he quickly followed up by telling me he couldn’t be quoted on anything, then provided me the contacts for their coordinated response from Ottawa.

Fair enough. I would have left then, but he seemed to want to talk more, and so for more than 30 minutes we did. I can’t tell you what we talked about, because I said I would respect the assumed boundaries of an off-the-record discussion, even though there was nothing…nothing that was shocking, revelatory, or, in my view, sensitive.

And yet, isn’t everything sensitive today? Doesn’t any information at all have the potential to become gunpowder for the barrel? And that, I think, was his point.

I admit, before I walked over I tweeted about what I’d heard on CBC. It seemed an important local angle, and if our Yellowknife military families were to go into hiding (which seems ridiculous when you think about where we live in relation to Ottawa), then that seemed relevant news.

I regretted doing that after my wholly odd meeting with Capt. Power, and when I left I deleted the Tweet, since clearly, our military families here, for the moment, are not being instructed to go about their day any differently (at least that I can see).

Extra vigilance

Nor is our legislative assembly session cancelled this afternoon, although Sgt. at Arms, Brian Thagard, said assemblies across the country are “extra vigilant when something like this happens.

“We’re being more watchful and reacting to what’s going on,” he added.

I started thinking about the family of the soldier shot in Ottawa this morning, and at one point during my discussion with Capt. Power offered up my condolences to him and the military here over his death, then quickly corrected myself, as we did not know the status of his condition.

And then I started to cry. Which I’m sure must have seemed odd to him. It’s just that I was already thinking about every person that ever loved that man, and how his family will never be the same. And how he was just standing on guard out of respect and duty for every Canadian soldier that has ever put their life on the line so we can live in this big, bountiful democracy of a place that isn’t accustomed to such attacks.

And a friend in Yellowknife had just texted me that she was in tears this morning thinking that her brother, who is in the military in Ottawa, might have been gunned down on his way to work, but then she found out from her mom that he doesn’t wear his uniform on his way to work. He is safe, but locked down.

After composing myself, I returned to the office and learned that sadly, the soldier has died.

There are some CBC reports that military are being told not to wear their uniforms unless they are on active duty. I emailed the coordinated response unit with the Dept. of National Defence to see if that is true, because as Capt. Power himself told me, they’re really busy today in Ottawa and may not be able to respond to a phone call.


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