OTTAWA — There is a Latin phrase that reads: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? — translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”
On Thursday, that question was answered, at least for the ceremonial guards who stand watch daily over the iconic National War Memorial.
The federal government has contracted the Ottawa Police Service to guard the two sentries stationed below the monument and in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Department of National Defence is paying the Ottawa police an estimated $425,000 for uniformed officers to protect the sentries beginning this week and running until mid-November.
The contract follows the attack last fall in which Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot and killed honour guard Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the memorial.
Bibeau later died in a hail of bullets after he burst into Parliament’s Centre Block.
“After the terrorist attack of Oct. 22, we learned that there are certain dangers to which our soldiers willingly subject themselves,” said Ottawa-area MP and Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre, who took part in a ceremonial inspection of the first two sentries to take their posts this season.
Metal stanchions are also being placed around the sentries and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as an added security measure.
National Defence said it hired the police because it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the memorial site.
The department had considered providing ammunition to the sentries, who carry ceremonial — yet functional — military weapons with them while on duty.
But that idea was dismissed in favour of the police presence, said Poilievre.
The Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force rotate sentries from April 9 until the day before Remembrance Day.
Heavily armed police officers were brought in to protect the memorial in the days following last October’s shooting until the sentry program ended for the season.
Poilievre said he expects the new arrangement with Ottawa police will continue in future years.
Media reports have revealed that the sentries not only endure sometimes dramatic changes in weather, from cold to heat to torrential downpours, but also loud drunks, vandals and even abuse from some people.
If anyone is found abusing the sentries, they should be punished, said Poilievre.
“If there is anybody (who) abuses or mistreats the monument or the guards, they are carrying out the most despicable deed, and we should do our best to find them, and if possible, prosecute them,” he said.
“That is completely outrageous and should never be tolerated.”
This year’s sentry program launch coincided with a ceremony at the memorial marking the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
About 100 veterans and young people flanked the stone steps of the monument to honour the sacrifices made at Vimy, a First World War battle which many historians have characterized as a defining moment for Canada.
Veterans saluted as the young bowed their heads Thursday as the Ode of Remembrance was read in tribute to the 3,600 Canadians killed in taking the heavily fortified ridge.