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'I reacted with my training': Canadian ambassador on why he tackled an Irish protester

In a wide-ranging interview with TheJournal.ie, the ambassador also spoke of his admiration for Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan.

KEVIN VICKERS IS probably one of the better known diplomats in this country.

Before he became Canadian Ambassador to Ireland, he came to international attention when he stopped a terrorist attack at the Canadian parliament building in 2014.

25-year-old Muslim convert Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed a Canadian soldier on the steps of the building before attempting to enter it. Vickers, who was Sergeant-at-Arms of the parliament at the time, led the security team during the operation and shot the gunman dead.

This year, he was under the spotlight again after he tackled a protester who interrupted a ceremony to commemorate British soldiers who died during the Easter Rising.

Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Vickers came up against criticism for his intervention, but in an interview with TheJournal.ie, he said he was acting on instinct, having worked as a police officer for most of his adult life.

“I grew up since I was 19 in the guards and I received extensive, extensive training and provided close security to heads of state from around the world throughout my careers so I’m trained to instinctively respond to incidents and I think probably the incident in Ottawa as well as the incident [here] it’s not me thinking it’s just an instinctive response that I reacted with my training,” he explained.

Source: Brian Lawless/PA

You know I often think if I was a cardiologist, for example, and somebody took a heart attack in front of me, would I stop and think:’Well what are the repercussions here?’ You just intuitively act given your training and your profession.

Vickers also said he was impressed by “the love the Irish people have” for gardaí.

“I say that based on many, many conversations I’ve had all over Ireland and you know I think the guards are blessed,” he said.

“I’ve got to know Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan and I think Ireland is blessed to have a person such as her calibre and character to be in charge of the guards, and they are Ireland’s guardian angels and they’re these communities’ guardian angels and they’re revered as such in all the communities I go to.”

Vickers remained diplomatic when asked what he thought about Donald Trump, stating he was “intrigued of all the different readings about the individual”.

I heard an interesting interview, one of our previous prime ministers Brian Mulroney was interviewed about him just the past week it was on our national news where he was of the view – Prime Minister Mulroney was of the view – that a lot of the election comments was electioneering rhetoric and that perhaps that given a chance he will do okay. So, I’m hoping for everyone that may be the case.

‘A person of values’

He had more to say, however, about his own country’s leader Justin Trudeau, who is a personal friend of his. Trudeau is widely regarded as a progressive leader, and has been strong on issues like immigration, climate change and gender equality.

Since November last year, more than 28,000 Syrian refugees have been welcomed to Canada. He has frequently referred to himself as a feminist and backed up that statement when he became Prime Minister last year and appointed a completely gender-balanced Cabinet.

Trudeau has also spoken in favour of legalising marijuana, having admitted to smoking it himself in the past.

“Justin is first and foremost a person of values, the values that come to my mind right off the bat would be honesty and integrity and he always had, I guess I would describe it as a concern for a less fortunate people, and so I think that its evidence in his priorities and how he conducts himself,” Vickers said.

The ambassador said Trudeau’s mother Margaret, who was herself an activist and who he described as a “wonderful, remarkable lady”, may have had some influence on his concern for women.

“He is just a very principled young man and I think Canadians are very proud that he is now our Prime Minister and he is taking these stands.”

There’s many, many tools in the toolbox, and those tools can include tools such as understanding, dialogue, compassion, education, a tool of enforcement or you know military involvement is a tool of last resort, and I think that is where he is at as well.

Irish heritage

Vickers has strong Irish connections, with his mother’s family hailing from Bantry and his father’s family coming from Arklow and Portlaoise.

Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers in Dublin Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan, greets the then newly appointed Canadian Ambassador to Ireland in January 2015. Source: Niall Carson/PA

“The people in Arklow will tell you that’s where I’m from and if you enquire with Minister Charlie Flanagan he’ll tell you that I’m from Laois,” he joked.

Where I’m from in Miramichi, New Brunswick, everybody is Irish, everybody is Irish. Primarily from west Cork but the names primarily at home that you would find are Hennessy, Driscoll, McCarthy, Walsh, Butler. Not only do we have the same names, I’ve since found out, that we actually look like one another, if you go down to Bantry or Skibberean and walk into a coffee shop you could be at home in Miramichi. The mannerisms of people as well are very much congruent very, very remarkably alike.

He credited the reputation Canadian people have for being friendly to this Irish heritage, which he said had a “tremendous impact on Canada in formation of our values”.

“So you know people say ‘you’re Canadian’ and yes I’m Canadian, but I feel just as much that I’m Irish, and I think many Canadians are that way.”

Pictures: Canadian ambassador tackles protester at 1916 ceremony>

Read: ‘There’s no glory in taking a man’s life’: Canadian ambassador to Ireland on stopping a terrorist attack>

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