Protecting our Parliament: The Legislative Protective Service at Queen’s Park

Article 1 / 11 , Vol. 45 No. 1 (Spring)

Protecting our Parliament: The Legislative Protective Service at Queen’s Park

Rachel Nauta is executive assistant to Ted Arnott, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Jackie Gordon, Michael Vidoni, Todd Decker, and Trevor Day, in the preparation of this article.

The Legislative Protective Service (LPS) at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario is a key component in providing security to Members, staff, guests, and visitors at Queen’s Park. In this article, the authors describe how the LPS functions within the broader management of the Assembly and outline recent changes to how the service is constituted and operates.

The grounds of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario are often bustling with activity; tourists take in the grandeur of the Pink Palace, university students read books in the shade of the trees, friends meet up to toss a ball or have a picnic, and residents from across the province come to peacefully protest at the home of Ontario’s parliamentary democracy.

One particular spring day last year—as Ontarians continued to reduce contacts to confront COVID-19— the South grounds in front of the Assembly were quieter than usual, but it would not remain that way for long.

A young man, keen to raise awareness about climate change and the desire for greater governmental action to reduce carbon emissions began to set up for his solitary protest.

He arrived on the grounds carrying a duffle bag with supplies for his demonstration. Seemingly unsure of where he should protest and looking for an ideal location, he was quickly noticed by staff of the Legislative Protective Service (LPS), who approached him and directed him to the designated area.

The man set up his sign, and commenced his demonstration. After an interval, he pulled a red long sleeve shirt from the duffle bag, placing it on the ground. He next took out a plastic reusable 1 litre water bottle and carefully poured the bottle’s contents onto the shirt before putting it on.

While protests at the Legislature often involve some theatrics to draw attention to an issue, Constable Jenn Moore, a Peace Officer with the LPS, took notice of his particularly odd behaviour. Trained to observe all visitors and watch for unusual patterns of activity, Cst. Moore was standing at a distance from the man, but in clear sight of him.

He stood beside his sign, blankly staring at it for a moment. Then he walked over to approach two other demonstrators who were standing close by. He spoke with them briefly, but they seemed to rebuff him and he returned to his sign. He kneeled on the ground and raised his hands, in what appeared to be prayer. A moment later, flames began to rise off his body; the shirt he put on had been doused in gasoline.

Without hesitation, Cst. Moore reacted. While running towards him, she radioed the Operational Communication Centre, requesting additional assistance from available LPS officers and a dispatch of Emergency Medical Services.

Despite the fact that she wore no gloves or any kind of flame retardant clothing or equipment, Cst. Moore began to tear the burning clothes off the protester with her bare hands and used whatever nearby materials she could reach to extinguish the flame, while backup officers raced to the scene.

Within a matter of seconds, LPS Constables Justin Weese and Alex Shaw arrived on the scene. Their emergency response training kicking in, they too did not hesitate to pat down the flames on the man’s upper body and instruct him to drop to the ground and roll. He did, and soon the fire was out.

Together, the three LPS staff administered first aid, placing the now-compliant man on his back, removing the remaining burnt clothing, and dressing the burns. Before long, paramedics from the City of Toronto arrived. They transported the man to nearby Mount Sinai Hospital. There, he was treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation. With the immediate and effective response of the Legislative Protective Service at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on May 13, 2021, a tragedy was averted. An extraordinary day, with extraordinary LPS courage on display.

While the incident from last spring illustrates an exceptional occurrence, members of the LPS work diligently each day to prevent such shocking scenarios from becoming commonplace.

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As with all matters in the Parliamentary Precinct, the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly bears ultimate responsibility for the safety of everyone who enters the Parliamentary Precinct, and the security of the buildings and grounds. The Speaker is involved in all discussions of the security policies, procedures and practices implemented by the LPS. While many parliamentary practices are deeply rooted in tradition, the LPS is a modern, continually changing part of the organization—which includes an historic first in the role of Sergeant-at-Arms.

The Assembly’s Sergeant-at-Arms, Ms. Jackie Gordon, became the first female in Ontario’s history to hold this position when she was appointed to the role in 2017. She was uniquely qualified after a distinguished 34-year career with the Halton Regional Police Service, including time spent in community policing, the court system, and as an Inspector. Ms. Gordon is the senior officer of the Legislative Protective Service, with an extraordinary team of highly trained Security Officers and Peace Officers assisting her on the frontlines, adopting new tools and technologies to keep everyone safe.

Further contributing to the LPS’ ability to adapt and modernize, amendments to the Legislative Assembly Act passed by the House during the current Parliament have clarified the mandate of the Legislative Protective Service, and some of the roles and responsibilities of the Speaker and the Sergeant-at-Arms.

The Speaker was empowered to appoint members of the LPS as Peace Officers for the purposes of Canada’s Criminal Code. Their status as Peace Officers also applies while they are engaged in their duties within the Parliamentary Precinct and potentially outside of it in limited circumstances; for example, if they are in pursuit of a suspect after an incident on our grounds.

The Speaker’s authority to permit the LPS Peace Officers to possess and use firearms within the Parliamentary Precinct was also confirmed by the amendments. In addition, our Peace Officers now have full policing powers enabling them to enforce legislation such as the Highway Traffic Act, the Provincial Offences Act, and the Criminal Code of Canada.

After a thorough review, the Speaker determined that the armed LPS Peace Officers should operate with the same transparency as policing services. As a result, the LPS are now subject to the same complaints process and the mandate of the Special Investigations Unit. The Community Safety and Policing Act, 2019 as well as the Special Investigations Unit Act, 2019 establish rules of conduct, guidelines for the consideration of public complaints, and procedures governing investigations of criminal conduct. All of these oversight mechanisms apply to the LPS Peace Officers as well, which underscores the high standards of training they have undergone.

The structure and size of Legislative security arrangements have grown over time, often in response to events within the Precinct, and more broadly across the Province and the world. The 1984 shooting at the National Assembly in Quebec, and more recently, the fatal shooting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in 2014 led to the review of security arrangements at our national Parliament and at provincial Parliaments across the country.

In 2016, Speaker Dave Levac announced the establishment of the LPS’ first armed response unit after much consideration, consultation, preparation, and training. Additional security improvements at that time also included new traffic restrictions, increased security patrols around the Parliamentary Precinct, and enhancements to our visitor identification protocols.

In early 2021, a new Visitors’ Centre located at the southwest side of the Assembly building was completed. Although COVID-19 has reduced the number of visitors to the Assembly, this beautiful new addition— the first exterior addition to the Assembly in a century—acts as a single, accessible point of entry for all visitors. First recommended after a security review undertaken by the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly in 1996, the Visitors’ Centre allows LPS Officers to welcome, screen and clear guests efficiently and effectively.

At the southernmost end of the Parliamentary Precinct property, we expect to install a series of bollards for the purpose of traffic mitigation. We are also planning for improved parking controls with card-based access, enhanced CCTV coverage, duress alarms, and a new Operational Command Centre. Some of this work is expected to be completed this year as we anticipate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opportunity to safely host more visitors to the Assembly once again.

Elected Members often say that our Legislative Assemblies are the People’s Houses; and Members are elected to represent their communities there. Balancing public access to the building with the security of staff, visitors, and Members has been a long-standing and evolving practice in Parliamentary Protection. Finding the security balance in a parliament requires a constant review of the threats, risk and needs of the communities we serve. The key to our success to date has been the collaboration and support received by all fellow MPPs, the Board of Internal Economy and the LAO staff.

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Since my election as Speaker on July 11, 2018, it has been my privilege to work closely with the Sergeant-at-Arms and members of the LPS.

Each time I arrive at the Assembly—no matter what time of day— the first staff I encounter are members of the LPS. As a direct result of my day-to-day interaction with LPS staff while they are on the job, I have come to know many of them quite well. While the normal chain of command is always understood and respected, they know the door of the Office of the Speaker is open to them; on occasion, they have also come to my aid when doors are not open and I have managed to lock myself out of my office or the Speaker’s Apartment.

I am consistently impressed with their dedication, courtesy, professionalism and kindness. Each one of them is a credit to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and I am honoured to work so closely with them.

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