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article imageProud Canada hails stalwart Sergeant-at-Arms

By Michel Comte (AFP)     Oct 23, 2014 in World

As Canada came to terms with finding itself in the firing line of militant Islamists it turned for reassurance to a 58-year-old former Mountie formerly best known for carrying a golden mace.

As parliament's sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers' role is largely ceremonial, symbolizing the authority of the body and keeping order in the chamber wearing a bicorne hat and tail coat.

But on Wednesday, when a lone Islamist gunman stormed the building, he put pomp and circumstance to one side, found a gun and fired the shots that brought the rampage to an end.

He was back in the chamber on Thursday, a humble hero at the center of attention, applauded to the rafters by members of parliament.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper crossed the floor to shake his hand. Opposition leader Tom Mulcair praised his "heroism."

Vickers took charge of security on Parliament Hill -- a collection of government buildings overlooking the Ottawa River -- in 2006, after a 29-year career in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

He was an experienced officer, reaching the rank of chief superintendent, but he is not usually armed.

Canadian House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers (C) watches as parliament gives him a stand...
Canadian House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers (C) watches as parliament gives him a standing ovation on October 23, 2014, in Ottawa. Vickers was praised by members of Parliament for his "selfless act" after he reportedly shot an assailant who killed a Canadian Forces member in Ottawa
, Canadian House of Commons/AFP

So when Michael Zehaf-Bibeau charged through the front doors of parliament he reportedly had to return to his office to open the lockbox where he kept his handgun.

The attacker had already shot a security guard in the leg in an exchange of gunfire and had run down the Hall of Honor towards the library, where he took cover in an alcove next to Vickers' office.

Vickers reportedly emerged, threw himself to the ground to present a smaller target, and shot the assailant three times.

- 'Tremendous' relief, pride -

It was the first time he had ever shot anyone, a family member told local media.

"He always put his nation and his community first and foremost," his brother John said.

"We're just tremendously relieved he's OK and very, very proud of him and what he had to endure today."

Video images showed the six-and-a-half-feet tall Vickers calmly walking back to his office, his automatic pistol still in his hand at his side.

He is said to have entered a nearby conference room where Conservative MPs had been holed up to reassure them: "I put him down."

House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers was praised by members of Parliament for his  selfle...
House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers was praised by members of Parliament for his "selfless act" after he reportedly shot an assailant who killed a Canadian Forces member in Ottawa. Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper (R) shakes hands with Kevin Vickers, in Ottawa on October 23, 2014
Jason Ransom, PMO/AFP

"Thank God for Sgt at Arms Kevin Vickers," Justice Minister Peter MacKay said in a Twitter message.

Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino also said he was "profoundly grateful" to Vickers and to security forces for their "selfless act of keeping us safe."

One senator called him a hero while reporters heaped praise on him for his quick actions that "saved lives."

"Remind me to hug Kevin Vickers the next time I see him," said Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reporter Kady O'Malley.

In a statement, the humble officer said he was "very touched" by all the attention but said it must be shared with his "remarkable security team."

"Yesterday, during extraordinary circumstances, security personnel demonstrated professionalism and courage. I am grateful and proud to be part of this team," he said.

The son of a dairy farmer and a nurse, he was born in Chatham, New Brunswick.

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