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No timeline to reopen Edmonton city hall as officials review security protocols after shooting

Yellow police tape is seen outside Edmonton city hall on Tuesday after a weapons complaint prompted an evacuation of the building. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)
Yellow police tape is seen outside Edmonton city hall on Tuesday after a weapons complaint prompted an evacuation of the building. (Emily Fitzpatrick/CBC - image credit)

Edmonton city hall remains closed while the city reviews security protocols for the building, four days after a man fired shots and threw an incendiary device in the main atrium.

Officials are not saying when the security review will be finished or what the possible outcomes may be.

"I think it's fair to say that businesses as usual may have to shift," City Manager Andre Corbould told CBC in an interview this week.

Corbould said he'll wait for a professional firm to make recommendations on the current measures

"When these kinds of things happen, it's really important that we focus less on timelines and more on the conditions that we want to be met," Corbould said. "I'm focused on safety, wellness of staff."

It's also likely city hall will reopen in stages, Corbould added, with staff returning before the general public has access.

Council meetings scheduled from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 are cancelled, the city announced Friday.

Protocols followed

City hall was evacuated Tuesday morning after shots were fired and the fire alarm went off.

Coun. Tim Cartmell said staff did what they were trained to do and that the clerk in the River Valley Room, where a committee meeting was taking place with councillors and Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, acted with authority.

"[The clerk] was amazing, absolutely amazing," he said.

Some of the damage sustained at Edmonton city hall on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.
Some of the damage sustained at Edmonton city hall on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.

Some of the damage sustained at Edmonton city hall on Tuesday, January 23, 2024. (Submitted by City of Edmonton)

Cartmell was leaving the building as directed, along with about 10 other people, down a back stairwell.

They were following emergency fire protocols, not knowing a man with a gun was in the main atrium until someone received a text from an outside guest, saying there was an active shooter.

"You've got a number of people mustered and nobody in communication with somebody that's informed," Cartmell said of the evacuation. "And there wasn't a protocol to offer that instruction.

"It's a gap that we need to figure out how to fill."

Staff reacted appropriately and followed the drills they were taught, Corbould told CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"There was a bit of confusion because we had both a fire alarm going off and some very clear that there was an active shooter," Corbould said.

"The staff who could see and knew it was an active shooter did the right thing and sheltered in place and those who could not — and maybe did not see that or know that — were able to evacuate under the fire alarm."

The city confirmed that shots had been fired from a long gun and a Molotov cocktail thrown from the stairs.

Security guards at city hall quickly detained a man who was later charged.

Bezhani Sarvar, 28, faces six criminal charges, including reckless discharge of a firearm, using/placing/throwing an explosive substance, arson, possession of incendiary material, using a firearm while committing an offence and careless use of a firearm.

CBC News confirmed Sarvar appears in a roughly four-minute video circulating on social media in which he describes wide-ranging thoughts about modern society while referencing a mission.

Sarvar is due in court Feb. 2.

Security options 

The security review may consider enhanced measures and scanning, similar to the Alberta legislature and the courthouse in Edmonton where everyone is required to go through metal detectors.

To get into the committee room and council chambers at city hall, members of the public must go through a metal detector, but there is no screening at any of the main entrances to city hall.

Cartmell said he's not convinced whether further screening will prevent incidents from happening.

"Unless you really bolt it down like a prison, you can't prevent every circumstance," Cartmell said.

Ward Nagota Isga Coun. Andrew Knack said he's seen screening options that are different from the conventional bulky ones, where people walk through in a steady stream and security can do a secondary search if needed.

"Sometimes we host really large events where you know it can draw hundreds of people and the last thing you want is a system where you bottleneck at the door, and it takes a couple minutes per person to get through."

Knack said he hopes the city will look at different technology and different solutions that can allow people to still easily access the building while ensuring safety.

The city said it hopes to release an estimated cost of damages early next week, as it continues to make repairs to the building.