TORONTO — Two Canadians killed in cold blood on home soil for simply wearing a soldier’s uniform have been selected the country’s Newsmaker of the Year for 2014.
Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, whose senseless murders in October shook the country, were the top choice of editors and news directors surveyed by The Canadian Press.
“It’s very sad but very deserved,” Vincent’s eldest sister Louise Vincent said in her first interview since his funeral.
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“First it was a family death and after that we realized that his death was not only ours.”
Indeed, the two unsuspecting and unarmed soldiers quickly became household names for reasons Canadians could barely fathom.
Vincent, 53, described as a quiet, determined person who was always looking to help others, died Oct. 20 after a “radicalized” Martin Rouleau, 25, deliberately ran him down in a parking lot in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
Two days later, with the country struggling to process Vincent’s death, terror gripped the nation’s capital when Michael Zehaf Bibeau shot Cirillo, 24, in the back before storming Parliament Hill and dying in a hail of bullets.
The photogenic, dog-loving reservist had been quietly standing ceremonial guard with an unloaded weapon at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier when he was attacked without warning.
Once again, Canadians were dismayed and saddened at the prospect of a soldier killed on home soil — this time someone who might have looked like a “big tough man” but was, as a cousin said, “such a kid at heart.” Photographs of Cirillo’s dogs poking their heads from beneath the fence of the family home in Hamilton only added to the palpable grief.
Even before his state-like funeral, Canadians learned of the valiant efforts to save and comfort the dying father of a five-year-old boy.
“You are so loved,” lawyer Barbara Winters said she repeatedly told him.
In scenes not seen since the repatriation of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, thousands of Canadians lined the “Highway of Heroes” to show support for the two men.
“These two men did not ask to be in the news,” said Fred Hutton, news director with VOCM in St. John’s.
“They were random victims who were thrust into the spotlight by deranged individuals who made us all question our own safety.”
Michel Lorrain, general director with Cogeco nouvelles in Montreal, noted in his survey comments how rare it is in Canadian history for soldiers to be killed outside of a combat mission.
Their deaths, said Murray Guy, managing editor of the Times and Transcript in Moncton, N.B., symbolized Canada’s “sudden loss of innocence in a world where we thought we were all detached from the dark threat of terror that has plagued so many seemingly so far away.”
In all, Cirillo and Vincent picked up 23 of the 85 votes cast to be named 2014 Newsmaker.
Cirillo’s still-grieving family refused to comment but Louise Vincent called the result a show of respect for the depths of their sacrifice.
In second spot with 13 votes apiece were Kevin Vickers, the sergeant-at-arms credited with stopping Zihaf Bibeau, and disgraced CBC radio personality, Jian Ghomeshi.
Steve Murphy, executive news editor with CJCH-TV Halifax, called Vickers a “genuine hero.”
Ghomeshi was already known to millions of people before he was accused of sexually or physically assaulting several women — allegations he has strongly denied.
Some of those voting felt the scandal surrounding the ex “Q” host had a more profound and lasting impact than did the Parliament Hill horrors.
“I hate to say it but it’s true,” said Adrienne Tanner, deputy editor of the Vancouver Sun. “Not only was he a Canadian icon brought down after years of people protecting him, but he raised the larger issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, a story that unfortunately still resonates in the highest echelons of business and politics.”
Even though the 32-year-old Bibeau’s headline-grabbing attack on Cirillo and Parliament Hill put him in contention for the year’s top newsmaker, only a few of those voting actually picked his name.
Some, such as Darryl Mills, with the Daily Herald in Prince Albert, Sask., called it “offensive” the gunman was given any consideration.
“There is no reason to allow him any more exposure,” Mills said.
While many might consider former crack-smoking Toronto mayor Rob Ford to be firmly yesterday’s man — he was voted Newsmaker of the Year in 2013 — the ailing politician placed fourth overall with 12 votes.
Ford, whose aggressive cancer forced him to quit his quest for re-election this fall, still managed to campaign between chemotherapy sessions to be elected as a city councillor.
“It wasn’t what would change our lives, but it was akin to watching a train wreck,” said David Kirton, host and producer with CKOM Saskatoon.
Only publishing tycoon-turned-politician Pierre Karl Peladeau, who picked up 10 votes in Quebec, did better than Ford in the province.