Having spent 98.9% of our adult lives growing up and living in the True North, we gnawed eagerly on the competition that good ole’ Ottawa spit out once we arrived. We couldn’t wait to size up Ottawa against the older, more widely-known government buildings of Washington DC. Travis had visited our nation’s capital as a youngster and told me it was pretty cool. But I, myself, was a virgin to the monuments and security around me, and I was turned off government after the tripod incident in Washington. Actually, to be completely honest, the thought of scouting out more government buildings bored me to tears. But I was seriously misguided. Hilarious comparisons awaited our discovery.
I’m sure you’re just dying to hear our first impressions after seeing both US and Canada’s government infrastructure (my fancy word for buildings, security guards, and other general quirks).
There are some very notable differences between how these two countries are securitized.
When we think of security in Washington DC, we are reminded of notorious guards with dark uniforms, roaring around the state building on motorcycles, frightening tourists with their perfectly trimmed-moustaches and invisible humour. One particular guard stands out in our memory. Taking his job at the National Gallery of Art very seriously, he lurched out of his post to berate a young girl climbing in a cherry tree in full blossom. She was with her family posing for photographs, barely six inches off the ground. From more than 25 metres away, we heard his inhuman bellow—
GET OUT OF THE TREEE. GET OUT OF THAT TREE RIGHT NOW!!! And again and again until the poor girl practically fell out of it. His voice went hoarse from the effort.
Recall this was an angry gallery employee. Not a presidential body guard on Capitol Hill.
Recall that you are not even allowed upon the steps of the Capitol building or you would likely get shot.
Now contrast this with Canadian security. We strolled up to the Canadian House of Parliament. We walked right up the steps. They were holding parliament tours and people patiently lined up to see the inner workings of the Canuck government.
Outside, I saw a few police officers. No body guards or strange men with sunglasses or ear buds stood squarely in the doorway. There was, however, a lady cop eating a butterscotch pudding in her squad car as she slowly circled the grounds. She smiled at us.
Rallies take place regularly on Parliament Hill, with the most recent being an anti-abortion protest on May 13, 2010. But there was no such rally happening the day we arrived.
Granted this was no ordinary day. This just happened to be Girl Guide Canada’s 100th birthday. The grounds were littered with balloons, children, birthday horns, and bagpipes. What a spew of colour. The only terrorists I saw on Canadian soil were ten-year-olds forcefully trying to help puppies and toddlers cross the street.
But don’t quote me on that.
Seeing the parade of colour I was reminded of that one dude we saw protesting male circumcision in Washington, DC with his sign held high in the air. I’m sure it was an off day on Capitol Hill. Surely, more than one person in America cares about babies getting their foreskins chopped off.
At any rate, in case you’re not convinced about Canada’s powerful level of security, take this example. Our friends Wendy and Chris guided us through Rideau and Gardens just past office hours. If you’re not familiar, this is where popular Governor General Michaëlle Jean resides. Her role debated, Jean is still certainly in need of security. No sooner did we stroll over to her un-gated house, a single security guard wandered out, smiling. He floated a couple of questions at us, inquiring whether Western Canadians thought lowly of the ‘East’. He joked he had nothing to do with the income tax hikes. He joked about how security at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s place was even stricter. Guards don’t smile there! My next logical thought was to ask him whether tripods were permitted on the premise. “Sure,” he laughed. “Why not?”
Because of terrorist threats? Like in the USA? Actually, in Canada the worst tactical weapon is a banana cream pie. You’ll find this method is used by rebel extremists to damage politicians’ resolve when they become selectively deaf. It works well as a humiliation device. Aside from the FLQ crisis, this is as serious as our government blitzes tend to get.
The security guard thanked us and told us to come back again during tour hours. He said we might get to meet the Governor General in person! We might be busy that day, but I’m sure she’s really nice.
US government architecture is a concoction of architectural influence from classical Greece, Rome, Egypt, medieval Europe, and 19th century France. Pretty regal looking columns, those. I was impressed, but also a little detached. It was as if I was a just a puny sacrifice for the Greek God of Impressive Things with no relevance to the great stones of immovable power. Basically, those buildings were a bit cold.
On the other hand, Ottawa’s architecture speaks richly of gothic revival. The arches of the parliament building are embedded with forest creatures. Most notably, a maniacal unicorn. Apparently this unicorn symbolizes purity. I don’t know of any pure unicorns. Those savage beasts fornicate all day long and mark their territory with rainbows. No-good creatures. Unicats, on the other hand…
Yet, still I am drawn to the magical buildings of Ottawa —a magnetism I never felt in DC. It’s probably those searing eyes peering out of that indifferent DC stone that have got me all jumpy. Just a thought.
What really cracked us up was how statues are regarded in both the US and Canada. We’re all familiar with the oversized Abe Lincoln statue inside the DC memorial. Imagine anyone jokingly going hog wild on old Abe’s leg. You can bet your boots if Abe didn’t kick the perpetrator himself, security would be in there booking the ‘crook’ for defacing public property in ten seconds flat.
Then there’s Canada. I may or may not have seductively posed with my arms around a bronzed boy —don’t worry, he was an architect who had his fingers eternally poised over the lines of a future panopticon. He wasn’t interested in me. Actually I have no idea, it could have been a simple triangle he was tracing. I didn’t see any explanatory plaque explaining me out of that situation.
Here’s the thing. My pose was tame. Braver ladies than I posed with legs lewdly splayed over Lester B. Pearson’s lap like he ordered up a cheap Canadian whiskey and a little rump roast. And it wasn’t just the ladies. Kids with monkey antics clamoured all over the statues, spreading their grimy spit germs all over Nellie McClung (leader of women’s suffrage). Her hand was worn to a golden shine where it had been lovingly groped. People young and old rubbing shoulders with history. Literally. It was a bit of a wonderful disgrace. I mean, this is true patriotism, right?
The funniest part? Not one security officer, cop, nor gallery guard appeared. No one yelled, ordered people off, threatened them with large firearms. It was if this interaction was somehow encouraged.
I nearly forgot… Ottawa’s Parliament Hill features feral cats. Like: cats that are wild but are fed by some devoted old guy named René. They live right on Parliament Hill and come and go as they please. A special enclosure has been made for them to keep warm in the winter. So no, we don’t have ferocious attack dogs in Canada defending our freedom. But we have cats. Indifferent, reticent, wild cats. And that’s awesome.
We should have brought our tripod.
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