Few details given to Veterans Affairs employees during bomb scare

Nigel Armstrong NArmstrong@TheGuardian.pe.ca
Published on January 7, 2016

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.

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.