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Some employees return to Edmonton city hall after shooting

Click to play video: 'Some employees return to Edmonton city hall after shooting'
Some employees return to Edmonton city hall after shooting
Two weeks after a shooting inside Edmonton City Hall, some councillors and other city staff returned to work at the downtown building on Monday. Lisa MacGregor reports – Feb 5, 2024

Some councillors and other city staff returned to work at Edmonton City Hall on Monday, just under two weeks after a shooting.

The return to work was voluntary, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said, and remote work was still an option.

Committee meetings are being done virtually since city hall is not yet open to the public.

“I am feeling fine going back,” the mayor said Monday morning. “Obviously, what happened was — even though a rare event — a very traumatic event.

“It could have been worse. We got lucky that no one was physically hurt,” he added.

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On Jan. 23, just before 10:20 a.m., a man came into city hall through the parkade and walked through city hall with a firearm, firing shots, shattering glass, mostly on the second floor, and throwing a Molotov cocktail. No one was hurt or killed. Police arrested the man quickly and said they believed he acted alone.

Bezhani Sarvar, 28, 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.

“There has been a lot of trauma caused by this,” Sohi said. “So we’re properly supporting staff with whatever they need.”

Coun. Tim Cartmell explained that while certain parts of the building are separated by a series of locked doors, other areas — like the council and committee rooms — are not.

“There’s really nothing in the way to get from the front door to get to that door. We have staff people that have to be in those buildings to operate the meetings and we’re not in a place where we can guarantee their safety. So, we have to think about that and until we can, we’ll do it virtually.

“There’s people in that room that work for the City of Edmonton whose backs are to everybody except for the few councillors. That’s disconcerting. We need to play out all those situations and ensure that those in those environments where it feels a little bit different now, that they can feel like they can function and they’re going to be safe,” Cartmell said.

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A security assessment of the public building is being done. Sohi said there is no timeline on when it might be done.

“We are living in a very polarized world,” the mayor said Monday. “We would have to take some precautionary steps, absolutely, to ensure everyone who works at city hall — including political staff, administrative staff, city clerk’s office, communications folks — as well as people who go to city hall to engage with us do feel safe.

“At the same time, … city hall has always been a public place; it’s always been a community gathering place. And we need to keep it that way, … keep it as open and accessible as possible,” Sohi said.

Click to play video: 'Civic Matters Feb. 5: Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi'
Civic Matters Feb. 5: Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi

Councillors said they managed to continue doing their jobs virtually or in a hybrid model over the pandemic and are confident they can do so again.

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“Certainly, one-on-one conversation is far better, but this is what we’re dealt with for the moment,” Cartmell said. “We’ve proven that we can function, that technology will work, and we can do it.

“The work of council has not stopped; we’ve just lost a half dozen meetings. We’ll be able to pick up those meetings and have those meetings function entirely virtually.”

Click to play video: 'Staffers act heroically during Edmonton City Hall shooting'
Staffers act heroically during Edmonton City Hall shooting

Coun. Karen Principe said it was nice to be physically back working at city hall.

“I think the way this was all handled, I think it was just well done. I feel very comfortable. I feel very confident,” she said.

Principe added that she has complete faith that any additional safety measures will balance security and keeping city hall a truly open, accessible public space.

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“I think it can be. I hope it will be. That’s one of the beautiful things about city hall — is that it is an open, public space and it’s a gathering place for all Edmontonians and people visiting us as well. I really hope to see that it will be once again an open public space.”

Cartmell agrees.

“The building was made to be a welcoming town square, naturally lit, it’s got a glass roof … We don’t want to lose all of that. The building had a particular design. The design was genius. It stands the test of time,” he said.

“The question is: what threshold of safety do you need? Where do you apply it? How do you apply it? … But I don’t think it takes months and years. I think it takes weeks.”

He said perhaps the way people get in and out of the building needs to be altered a little bit.

“We have to make sure that the people that care for us, that operate our meetings… are safe and feel safe and secure,” Cartmell said.

The city will rely on advice from security experts and make whatever changes they deem necessary, the mayor said.

Sohi and city manager Andre Corbould previously said city hall would remain closed to the public until repairs were done and the security review completed.

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