Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect makes first court appearance

Click to play video: 'Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect appears in court'
Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect appears in court
As Bezhani Sarvar, the suspect in the Edmonton City Hall shooting, appeared in court, experts weigh in on whether the violence could be considered terrorism. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports – Jan 25, 2024

A 28-year-old man accused of firing a gun inside Edmonton City Hall this week wore an orange jumpsuit when he appeared in court via CCTV from the Edmonton Remand Centre on Thursday.

Bezhani Sarvar is accused of bringing a gun into city hall on Tuesday — shooting several rounds randomly — and throwing a Molotov cocktail.

David Ibrahim appeared as Sarvar’s lawyer Thursday but said he is unsure whether he will remain in the position.

Ibrahim asked the judge to put the matter over for a week so that Crown prosecutors can provide him with a bail package.

Speaking to media after the appearance, Ibrahim said he has been in contact with the suspect’s brother-in-law and his father. Both reside in Edmonton.

He said he couldn’t speak to Sarvar’s state of mind at the moment and would not comment on whether two apparent manifesto videos which have surfaced on social media were made by Sarvar.

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City hall was put into lockdown but no one was physically injured. An unarmed commissionaire who works security at city hall detained the suspect.

Sarvar is charged with reckless arson in an occupied property, possessing incendiary materials, use of a firearm while committing an offence, careless use of a firearm, throwing an explosive substance and discharging a firearm into a building.

Police said late Wednesday afternoon that an initial charge of knowingly possessing an unauthorized firearm would be dropped.

Legal analyst and lawyer Ari Goldkind told Global News the charges are fairly “gentle,” explaining the toughest of the charges comes with a minimum five-year sentence.

“There’s a section in the Criminal Code and it really talks about delivering, placing or discharging an explosive or other device in a city hall-like building: in something that’s a government facility and infrastructure,” Goldkind said. “And if that section was utilized, that really would have exposed them to a potential period of imprisonment for life.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect makes first court appearance'
Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect makes first court appearance

That said, Goldkind explained the current charges would not warrant a life imprisonment.

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“Luckily, nobody was hurt. Nobody was injured. The courts will take that into consideration,” he said.

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“Does the fact that nobody was hurt or injured here lessen and keep his sentence much lighter than it would have otherwise been? Absolutely, 100 per cent.”

There’s also more analysis of two videos that were posted to YouTube the morning of the shooting. Both videos have since been removed. One shows a man wearing a Commissionaire security jacket and a blue shirt identical to the clothing worn by the man seen in surveillance video of the shooter.

A second video shows the same man wearing a tactical-style vest and holding a large gun, speaking to the camera in a Persian language while smoking and sitting in a casual manner.

Michael King is a University of Calgary social psychologist specializing in terrorism. He watched both videos and notes: “We do know that he is on a mission — he says that regularly in his video. Now, the mission itself is very unclear.”

In one of the videos, the man was sitting in a vehicle and talked about completing a mission and listed a wide range of concerns, including affordability, the housing crisis and immigration.

“He presents in the video, a host of very different grievances — but also doesn’t specifically identify any justification to engage in violence,” King said.

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King noted most extremists will explain why their imminent attack is justified, but that didn’t happen in the videos.

“In fact, a lot of his message is about people should be uniting: we have to be nicer to each other. There’s a lot of grievances there.

“To be honest, this is something that I have not seen before from, a quote unquote, ‘violent extremist.'”

The RCMP said its Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET) is engaged and actively working with the Edmonton Police Service on the investigation but did not release further information.

INSET is a multi-agency team led by the RCMP that investigates criminal activities of terrorist groups or people who pose a threat to Canada’s national security.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect was a security guard, released manifestos'
Edmonton City Hall shooting suspect was a security guard, released manifestos

Both Goldkind and King said filing terrorism charges is tricky and often come down to proving intent.

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“It all depends on his motivations,” King said. “If his motivations were political, to try and change society, to try and intimidate certain people — maybe at the municipal level to do a change in policy — that would qualify as an act of terrorism. But we’ll really need to know more about his intentions.”

Goldkind agreed, saying understanding the shooter’s religious, political or ideological purpose will be key.

“He was ranting about a number of issues, ranting in different languages — talking about immigration, wokeism, Israel, Gaza. It seemed to be a real mishmash of things where there’s not a clear through line.”

Both men said investigators will need to go through the videos, as well as dig up any other materials or manifestos the suspect may have created, to look at the overall picture and see if terrorism charges apply.

“I think that’s a section that should be used extraordinarily sparingly. It should not be overused. It’s like the term ‘hate speech’ — if you apply it like ketchup to everything, it starts to mean absolutely nothing,” Goldkind said.

Ibrahim said he had heard about what happened at city hall but would not share his thoughts on the shooting.

When asked whether he hoped to get his client bail next week, he said “that’s always the goal.”

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The Canadian Corps of Commissionaires confirmed Sarvar worked with them as a security guard since 2019 but that he was never assigned to city hall.

The suspect was wearing a security uniform at the time of the shooting.

Click to play video: 'RAW VIDEO: Gunman fires bullets inside Edmonton City Hall'
RAW VIDEO: Gunman fires bullets inside Edmonton City Hall

Police have not commented on a possible motive.

Sarvar will remain in custody until his next appearance on Friday, Feb. 2.

City hall repairs update

The city said on Thursday repair and restoration work continues at the building, which remained closed to the public. A statement from the city said there is a lot of broken glass and marble floor damage, and site inspections have confirmed further damage to windows, doorways, carpet and walls.

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Crews were working Thursday on installing plywood stanchions to prevent falls, and film was being put on exterior-facing glass until windows can be repaired.

“Decisions are being made with safety, wellness, and operational requirements top of mind,” city manager Andre Corbould said in a statement.

The city did not have any information about the cost of repairs or when the building will reopen to staff or the public.

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