‘There will be changes’ to safety protocols once Edmonton City Hall reopens after shooting, Mayor Sohi says

Edmonton City Hall will not reopen to the public until all the damage caused by Tuesday’s shooting has been repaired, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi says.

And once it does reopen, the mayor adds, changes will be made to improve the safety of employees and members of the public.

“There’s a lot of damage to the areas that were impacted,” Sohi said. “We don’t want to have staff going in, retraumatized by witnessing that damage again. We want to make sure it’s safe and secure.”

BACKGROUND: Edmonton City Hall shooter was ‘heavily armed’ with long gun, Molotov cocktails: police chief

Sohi spoke to CityNews a day after a “heavily armed” man entered city hall with a long gun and several Molotov cocktails. He allegedly fired multiple rounds and started a small fire before being detained by a security guard.

Police identified the suspect as 28-year-old Bezhani Sarvar. He is facing six charges, including careless use of a firearm and throwing an explosive substance.

City manager Andre Corbould confirmed Wednesday “restoration is already underway.”

“Crews are working diligently to bring City Hall back as the centre of municipal governance, a worksite for staff, and a welcoming place for Edmontonians,” Corbould said in a statement.

“City and contracted crews are hard at work cleaning, repairing and restoring the extensive damage in the building. Late Tuesday evening, Edmonton Police informed the City that maintenance crews could enter the building to survey the damage and scope necessary repairs. Over the next few days, crews will address critical safety related repairs to ensure the building can be re-opened as soon as possible.

“Crews will require some time to fully restore and repair all the observed damage from the incident and investigation.”

Broken glass at Edmonton City Hall after shooting on Jan. 23, 2024. (Submitted by: City of Edmonton)
Fire damage on floor of Edmonton City Hall after shooting on Jan. 23, 2024. (Submitted by: City of Edmonton)

Edmonton’s mayor was in the River Valley Room for an emergency advisory committee meeting when shots rang out. They were captured by a City of Edmonton livestream.

“Still a state of shock,” Sohi said. “This is something that you never imagined that it would happen in your workplace. And particularly a place that is open and accessible to everyone – it’s a community building. So we are all shaken and understand that there’s a lot of anxiety and fear and trauma out there. And I share that trauma.

“This is something that we need to grapple together and work together to get through this.”

LISTEN: Shots fired inside Edmonton City Hall

Sohi says commissionaires walked into the room and advised the mayor an active shooter situation was underway.

“City clerks took control of the situation and guided us to follow the directions as set out in the emergency evacuation procedures, which everyone followed in a calm way,” Sohi explained. “But then immediately, we also found out that the person was arrested. So the situation was under control.”

Edmonton’s police chief says the suspect was “detained” by an unarmed security guard while officers, who “got there within mere minutes,” were on the way.

“I’m not sure if it was a tackle or what it was… he went above and beyond his job in relation to help minimize the impact and for that we’re grateful,” Chief Dale McFee said of the security guard.

Mayor Sohi described the guard as someone who’s “been around city hall for a while and he knows it really well.”

“His prompt response helped get the situation diffused,” Sohi said.

“Our deepest appreciation to him and we will figure out a way to acknowledge his bravery. This could have turned into a pretty horrific situation and the way the situation was handled is commendable.”

Police officers and vehicles outside Edmonton City Hall after a weapons complaint Jan. 23, 2024. (Rod Maldaner, CityNews)

Certain safety protocols recently changed

Coun. Tim Cartmell was attending the same meeting virtually from his upstairs office when the shooting began.

“I was with my staff, we heard the loud bangs, we weren’t quite sure what it was,” Cartmell recounted. “It’s not especially unusual to hear noise or bangs from the city room from the giant foyer, sometimes they are setting up for events, that kind of thing. But these bangs were a little bit different. Then the fire alarms went off, presumably from the Molotov cocktail, so we started to evacuate.

“And then my assistant got a text message saying there was an armed intruder in the building, and that gave us pause as we were in the fire exit. Do we just go rushing out of the building? This was clearly now not just a drill, is there some other thing going on? So there was some angst, some apprehension walking out the door into Churchill Square.”

Cartmell explains safety protocols were recently changed following a fire drill before Christmas that “didn’t go well.”

“So that led to a change in protocol where the city clerk will read out the emergency actions at the beginning of every meeting,” said the Ward pihêsiwin councillor. “So that is a fairly new practice. And I’ll be perfectly frank, when I first heard the fire alarm going off, I thought it was another drill.”

WATCH: ‘Heavily armed’ suspect arrested following shots fired inside Edmonton City Hall: Police

Balancing safety, accessibility

Both Sohi and Cartmell weighed in on security measures going forward, and how to balance safety and accessibility.

“The safety review is underway,” the mayor said. “And we will rely on professionals to help us undertake that review and recommend changes. There will be changes, absolutely, but we want to make sure that changes improve safety and wellbeing of the employees and people who come to city hall at the same time.

“You want to make sure that this building remains open for public in a way that people can engage with their elected officials in an easy and accessible way. So it is a balance that we would have to strike.”

Cartmell says safety is going to be “a very serious conversation” going forward.

“If this person had decided to go to the committee room directly, the one or two people who are operating that metal detector would not have stopped this fellow. I mean, that was a pretty big gun,” the councillor said.

“Everything happens in public at city hall, and that has always been our ethic. How do we maintain that space, that way of communicating, that way of governance, but also assure everyone in the building that their physical and mental safety is not at risk?

“We’re going to have to find a new balance, and I’m not sure what that is, I’m not sure what that means, but clearly it’s not going to be the way it was. It’s going to be different.”

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