Few details given to Veterans Affairs employees during bomb scare

Nigel Armstrong
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Mayhem reigned as employees at Veterans Affairs Canada tried to cope with rumours of a bomb in their building Wednesday.

"A person came through our area yelling 'get out, get out, there is a bomb,' " said Jody LaPierre, executive member of the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees.

He was in the building at the time and said a sense of upset started to grow among employees around 11 a.m. Wednesday.

"We never heard any fire alarm," said LaPierre. "Someone said later they heard the fire alarm where they were it but it didn't go off in our area."

He said people began to leave based only on the rumour, some knocking on closed doors to warn occupants of what was going on, some starting to cry.

There was no email or message of warning, no phone or broadcast message.

"There were some people that were very, very upset," he said. "Other people were treating it like a joke."

LaPierre is on the building's health and safety committee so he knew this wasn't a planned drill.

"It just so happens they are working on a procedure to follow for bomb scares but it's not done yet," he said.

The nearly 700 staff treated the event like a fire drill and assembled outside.

"They came out and told us to move away from the front of the building, so we went across the street," said LaPierre.

Then frustration and anger began to set in.

"There were people there with no coat, no keys to their car, purses left, cell phones left," he said.

About noon a message came via cell phones, advising staff to seek shelter from the cold in nearby buildings, like the Murphy Centre, the Confederation Centre or the mall.

Later a message went out to call the DVA storm telephone line for updates but all that said was the building was closed, call back Thursday for the next update, said LaPierre.

Employees that car pool are allowed to park in the underground parking lot.

Some of them frantically asked LaPierre what they should do to get home but he didn't have an answer.

"Communication was very poor," he said.

Later discussion with security suggested employees keep receipts for any costs incurred from the lockdown and getting home, likely with the possibility of submitting them to get money back, said LaPierre.

There were some people that were very, very upset. Jody LaPierre

He did see pedestrians walking past the building in the very place employees had all been told to leave.

He saw children still around a day care in the Zion church right next door.

He also saw some employees darting into the underground parking lot to get their cars and leave while the lockdown was still on.

"With the way things are today, I think you have to take this (seriously)," he said.

Gary McGuigan, deputy chief of operations for Charlottetown Police Services Police said officers arrived and did an initial sweep of the building with the DVA security staff.

That sweep turned up nothing but just to be sure, a request was sent for a police dog from Moncton that is trained in sniffing for explosives, said McGuigan.

The New Brunswick police dog arrived, as did a P.E.I.-based dog and the two set to work sniffing through the DVA building.

That ended about 3 p.m. with nothing found and moments later a bomb threat was called into the nearby Jean Canfield federal building.

It is home to a variety of federal department offices but primarily is spill-over office space for DVA employees.

Telephone calls to the Jean Canfield building go through the main DVA building that was still in lockdown, said LaPierre.

He said the second threat makes it seem to be from someone with knowledge of how DVA works.

Staff at the Canfield building also went home for the day after that call came in. The two police dogs also went through that building.

Nothing was found at either federal building so now analysis begins to see if the call can be traced and a suspect identified, Charlottetown Police Services told The Guardian.



Organizations: Veterans Affairs Canada, Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, Murphy Centre Confederation Centre Zion church Charlottetown Police Services Police Canfield The Guardian Twitter.com/NigelPEI

Geographic location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • de udder guy
    January 07, 2016 - 16:18

    Just a bit of a dummy I am but I would think that the LAST thing that should be done is using the fire alarm in the event of a bomb scare.

  • Retired Regional Fire Safety Manager
    January 07, 2016 - 15:16

    A lot of mis communication here. sensationalisum at best The Guardian should not be involvedas they don,t know what to report. It the story, it was indicated that some people did not hear the Fire Alarm, which is the first line of defence in a building evacuation rather that somehighly charged , unexperenced person yelling to get out. I am quire sure that PWGSC BT NOW HAVE TAKEN THE REQUIRED ACTION TO HAVE THE FIRE ALARM CERTIFED,SO THAT ALL people can hear it. If there are dead spots in the system I sure that they would have been corrected a while ago. Every Fire Alarm system is reqired to be tested and certifed once evey year

  • tim
    January 07, 2016 - 13:29

    Veterans Affairs is a total disaster in itself ! Im pretty sure if you look through news stories over the past few years there has been more bomb threats at VAC throughout the country than every other department combined . Either way their incompetence is epic and their website isnt working now ..tells you all you need you know about their incompetence .

    • Big guy
      January 08, 2016 - 20:07

      I am completely satisfied with VAC a bit slow but they are not responsible for the changes the employees are great , respectful and helpful as best they can ... They are not the decision makers the politicians are ... And I'm grateful that we have thus service were most don't in thus world ...

  • Come on!
    January 07, 2016 - 09:40

    This is not the kind of stuff to be debating with the media we are dinged enough as it is we don't need our own to start debating our internal problems with the media to be shared with the public. Do what's right and do it the right way!

  • Sensationalist Journalism
    January 07, 2016 - 09:10

    As someone who was involved in the evacuation, I am of the opinion that this interview with the Guardian is purely sensationalism and an example of union representatives taking advantage of a tense situation to promote their agenda. Security and Health and Safety representatives were exceptionally communicative, focusing primarily on getting people out safely before elaborating on the situation. If people did not stay in the locations we were directed to (there were no coffee shops on the list that was communicated to myself and others in my vicinity) then it is their own fault that they missed out on communication. At no point during the entire situation did I feel uncertain of what was going on or where I should be. Also, I had to buy lunch as a result of mine being on lockdown but I will not be turning in a receipt for reimbursement. That is about as ridiculous a comment as I have ever heard. My personal safety more than compensated for the $25 hardship I endured for a nice lunch with co-workers. As a final note, thank you to all of the security staff, Health and Safety and Fire Committees, Charlottetown Police and management at Veterans Affairs for treating the threat as serious and executing a response plan without hesitation. It is much appreciated. This is just one man's opinion, all due respect to Mr. Lapierre's opinion.

    • Hawkins
      January 07, 2016 - 15:14

      "Sensationalist Journalism"? From The Guardian? I simply can't believe it.

    • Another Worker
      January 07, 2016 - 20:29

      I completely agree with you.