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Why are bomb threats made? A look at 5 cases in Halifax

A schizophrenic man wanting mental-health treatment; a young woman evading her stalker: these are just some of the reasons people made bomb threats in the Halifax area, a CBC News investigation has found. From Jan. 1, 2010, to Sept. 30, 2016, Halifax Regional Police investigated 71 bomb threats, but only laid charges in five cases, or seven per cent. That only five cases resulted in charges doesn’t surprise Halifax Regional Police Insp. Reid McCoombs.

“These types of investigations in general tend to have a fairly low solvability rate just due to the nature of how they come in,” he said.

Even with tracing technology for threats made via phone, email or social media, it can be difficult to finger who did it, McCoombs said. In the cases that resulted in charges, the accused individuals generally had a connection to the institutions for which bomb threats were made toward.

Many officers respond

For police, responding to bomb threats is “fairly resource-heavy,” said McCoombs. The response could include patrol officers, a canine unit, an explosives demolition team, forensics people and traffic officers.

“It takes them away from other places, but it certainly wouldn’t inhibit us in responding to an emergency call somewhere else,” said McCoombs.

“Does it mean that some of the lower-priority calls may wait a little longer for a response? Absolutely.”

5 cases result in charges

Using court recordings and information from police files and the Crown, CBC News pieced together the stories behind the five cases that led to charges:

Aug. 10, 2010

On Aug. 10, 2010, Eastern College in downtown Halifax received a bomb threat from a female at 8:30 a.m. Police arrived minutes later and the school was evacuated. The culprit was determined to be A.M., 20, a student at the school. A.M. saw her ex-boyfriend who had been stalking her outside of the school that day. She panicked and went to Park Lane Mall and made a bomb threat by using a pay phone. A.M. was given a conditional discharge, which included one year of probation and 10 hours of community service.

Aug. 12, 2010

On Aug. 12, 2010, 911 received a call at around 7 p.m. reporting a bomb in a briefcase at the Wedgewood Motel in Bedford was going to blow up. Police allege A.D., 52, was the culprit and he was arrested just after 7:30 p.m. on Robie Street in Halifax. Earlier that evening, at around 5:30 p.m., the motel had placed an unwanted-person call involving A.D. At trial, a 12-month peace bond was agreed to, which is essentially an agreement to keep the peace and remain on good behaviour, follow the law and abide by any terms or conditions. It is not an admission of guilt. A.D. was fined $100 and was ordered to stay away from the Wedgewood Motel.

April 12, 2012

On April 12, 2012, a staffer set off a panic alarm at Capital Health’s community mental-health clinic at 7071 Bayers Rd. in Halifax because J.A., 37, was in his office and said he had a knife. J.A. locked the door and stood in front of it, which prevented the worker from leaving although J.A. never told him he wasn’t allowed to leave. J.A. told the worker he was doing it because he wanted treatment for his schizophrenia. Police took J.A. to the hospital. He was later found to be criminally responsible and was charged with having a knife and with unlawful confinement.

Four days later, J.A. was at home and phoned in a bomb threat to 911 stating that he had a bomb in his residence. Police went there and J.A. was taken to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax for treatment. While there, he placed a call to 911 from a telephone for patients in the waiting room and said there was a bomb in the parkade. J.A. was charged with public mischief and false messages. For the four offences, J.A. was given a suspended sentence and 18 months of probation. Conditions included to keep the peace and be of good behaviour, report to mental health authorities and follow assessments or treatments recommended by them, abstain from possessing or consuming alcohol and illegal drugs, and to live with his mother at her Halifax-area home.

Oct. 9, 2014

The Crown alleged that on Oct. 9, 2014, while riding on the route 60 bus in Dartmouth, 37-year-old T.N. warned two security guards on the bus that he was going to blow up the nearby Nova Scotia Hospital.

“You need to warn your friends, I’m going to blow up the hospital at nine o’clock. My message is going to be heard and they’re going to comply with my requests,” he allegedly said. At trial, T.N. said the guards misheard him. He said he told them he was planning a peaceful protest. The defence rested its case on May 5, 2016, with a decision to be released by the judge on July 28, 2016. T.N. died on June 23 due to complications from kidney disease. The charges were stayed.

Sept. 10, 2015

Between Aug. 16 and Sept. 11, 2015, K.P., 58, made multiple threats, including death threats, toward security personnel who worked at the Dartmouth Shopping Centre at 118 Wyse Road. Police allege that on Sept. 10 K.P. phoned in a bomb threat to the business that provided security services for the mall, Atlantic Private Protection Service. In the agreed statement of facts read aloud at trial, no bomb threat was mentioned. K.P. was given five months of house arrest, followed by 18 months of probation.

Real bombs are rare

Security expert Dr. Steve Albrecht told CBC News last September that there’s a critical difference in the intentions of people who make bomb threats and actual bombers.[1]

“The bomb-threat maker doesn’t typically have any desire to blow up the building: the bomber does. In fact, the bomber does not want warning and does not want his device to be found, whereas the bomb-threat maker knows there isn’t a device. They just like being disruptive,” said the San Diego-based school and workplace violence expert. McCoombs said he couldn’t recall any instances where bomb threats investigated by Halifax police turned out to be real. There’s at least one instance in Canada where a bomb was found after a person made a threat. Roger Charles Bell, a P.E.I. man known as the Loki 7 bomber[2], carried out a string of bombings. In 1995, he phoned police with a tip about one he placed at a Charlottetown propane station, which they found and removed.

References

  1. ^ critical difference in the intentions of people who make bomb threats and actual bombers. (www.cbc.ca)
  2. ^ P.E.I. man known as the Loki 7 bomber (www.cbc.ca)

​’I could be dead’: Security guard shot by ‘Yuletide Bandit’ frustrated by early parole

Richard Long remembers the moment a bullet screamed by has ear like it was yesterday. He said he doesn’t think about it often anymore. But when the nickname “Yuletide Bandit” is in headlines again, his mind goes back to the moment he could have lost his life during an encounter with Michael Syrnyk.

“I just thank my lucky stars. I mean, I could be dead,” said Long. Long, a retired security guard with Securicor, was exiting the Safeway on Jefferson Avenue near McPhillips Street one Sunday in April 2002. He said he was given the all clear from his partner to walk toward their armoured vehicle, and it wasn’t until he heard a loud bang that he knew something was wrong.

“I turned around and he pumped the shotgun and I saw, in slow motion, the cartridge coming out, and then I knew I was in trouble. So I just spun around, drew my weapon and returned fire. By that time he had already loaded [his shotgun] and blasted again,” said Long.

​'I Could Be Dead': Security Guard Shot By 'Yuletide Bandit' Frustrated By Early Parole

Police on scene at the Safeway on Jefferson Avenue in 2002 after Michael Syrnyk, nicknamed the Yuletide Bandit, was involved in a gunfight with a security guard. (CBC)

Long said the bullet grazed past his right ear and he emptied the six shots from his gun at the heavily armoured Syrnyk. Long was shot in the back after he ran out of ammunition and said that if it wasn’t for the protective vest he was wearing he would have been dead on the spot leaving his children to grow up without their father, and robbing him of the past 15 years with his family or young grandchildren.

“When you put your uniform on and you put your gun in your holster, there is always a certain amount of risk. Whether you’re a police officer or a firefighter, you always want to come home,” said Long.

Yuletide Bandit back on Winnipeg streets

Syrnyk was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 21 years and six months for a series of armed robberies, mainly during holiday seasons from 1994 to 2002, which earned him the Yuletide Bandit nickname. His offences included robbing banks, businesses and armoured trucks at gunpoint.

Following a parole board decision, he was released from federal custody on Friday to a community facility in Winnipeg, where he will be monitored 24 hours a day and be required to report to a parole officer. Long said he isn’t surprised Syrnyk was released early despite pleading guilty to a long list of firearms-related charges and 21 counts of armed robbery.

​'I Could Be Dead': Security Guard Shot By 'Yuletide Bandit' Frustrated By Early Parole

Richard Long engaged in a 2002 gunfight with Michael Syrnyk, who was recently released on parole. (CBC)

“Now he’s here in Winnipeg, in a halfway house apparently,” Long said, adding that he’s frustrated by the parole board’s decision.

“Well, he got, what was it 25 years or whatever, and now he’s out walking the streets. He’s still going to be a young man,” said Long. Long also said being hit in the back after running out of ammunition was a cheap shot.

“You don’t shoot a guy in the back,” said Long.

Long said he knew Syrnyk was going to get out at some point but he isn’t sure the time Syrnyk served does enough for the victims of his crimes.

“I know for certain that there’s some bank tellers that could just not go back to work. They just couldn’t do it. So there’s somebody’s livelihood gone,” Long said.

“That’s the people he should be apologizing to.”

Lexin Resources and the dark side of Alberta’s downturn

It was nearly a year ago when Allan MacRae got a call from a friend and former colleague warning of trouble brewing at a small Alberta natural gas producer. Lexin Resources wasn’t on the radar of most Albertans last spring, but it was under scrutiny from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), and some of its own employees had become concerned about safety. Lexin operated more than 1,300 natural gas wells in the province and the 30-year-old Mazeppa Processing Plant south of Calgary, which processed sour gas a natural gas that contains hydrogen sulphide and is deadly to humans and animals, even in small concentrations.

It needs to be managed very carefully. And that’s why what MacRae learned shocked him. His contact at Lexin said that because of financial difficulties, the company wasn’t maintaining the plant as well as it could and didn’t have access to many of its sour gas wells because it hadn’t made lease payments to landowners. More importantly, his source was concerned the company wasn’t doing enough to maintain the pipelines that carried sour gas to the plant.

“MacRae, a professional engineer who’d been the General Manager of Engineering for Canadian Occidental when it owned the Mazeppa Plant in the 1990s, did his own research and came to an alarming conclusion

“Worst-case scenario would look like this,” MacRae told CBC News. “You have a major [pipeline] blowout with sour gas with a southeasterly or easterly wind and it carries over a number of southeast and east Calgary subdivisions.

“Nothing from earthworms and up would survive.”

Lexin Resources And The Dark Side Of Alberta's Downturn

A Lexin Resources well site in southern Alberta. Many of the company’s natural gas wells will need to be reclaimed and others will be sold after the province’s regulator forced the firm into receivership back in March. (Tracy Johnson/CBC)

MacRae wrote to the AER about his concerns in late May. The regulator had been monitoring Lexin for months at that point, and in mid-June it ordered that the pipeline system be shut-in until repairs were done. About six weeks later, Lexin told the AER it could no longer respond to an emergency[1] at Mazeppa and that the sour gas leak monitoring system wasn’t working. Days later, the regulator ordered the plant to be shut down. That intensified a series of disputes between the company and the regulator that led to the AER ultimately suspending Lexin’s operations entirely this past February and taking the unprecedented step of forcing the company into receivership so that its assets could be sold off to pay to clean up its financial and environmental mess.

That mess will take years to clean up and will likely cost millions to taxpayers and industry. But how much risk were Albertans in the southern part of the province facing in late 2015 and 2016?

Behind the scenes at Lexin

For the first time, MacRae’s original source at Lexin, a former executive, has agreed to talk to media about what he saw as the company unravelled. CBC News has agreed not to use his real name because he claims he’s still owed money from his time at the company and is concerned about legal repercussions. He will be referred to here as Peter Jones. CBC News has also spoken to other former managers at the company, along with employees, landowners and mineral rights holders who had dealings with Lexin.

Jones said that in the fall of 2015, a farmer called the plant to report what he thought was a sour gas leak.

“A sour gas leak is extremely dangerous, the stuff can kill you in a heartbeat,” Jones said. “One or two per cent [hydrogen sulphide] will kill you. We were dealing with sour gas up to 40 per cent.”

Jones said the company fixed the leak and then conducted an interior inspection of the pipeline system to find other spots where the metal may have corroded.

Lexin Resources And The Dark Side Of Alberta's Downturn

The Mazeppa Gas Plant is now under the control of the Alberta Energy Regulator. (Caroline Wagner/CBC)

Another former Lexin executive told CBC News the Mazeppa plant was in reasonably good shape at that time, having recently gone through what’s called a maintenance turnaround, where the plant is taken off-line for a refresh. But the pipeline system was a concern, especially because of its proximity to hundreds of landowners, not to mention Calgary. After the pipeline inspection was complete, staff at the plant suggested anti-corrosive chemicals be injected into the pipeline system to ward off further corrosion. According to sources, Lexin’s leadership didn’t follow that recommendation because of the cost.

Lexin’s response

In a memo to CBC News[2], Michael Smith, a director at Lexin, said the inspection of the pipelines in October 2015 found several areas where there was corrosion. He said the main north-south supply line, which runs along Alberta’s Highway 2, was subsequently repaired. Smith said lateral pipelines, which feed the main line, were assessed and shut in, until the company could decide if it was worth fixing them.

Smith said the company looked at the risk, the repair costs of the pipelines and the production losses from the gas fields that were feeding the lateral pipeline system. He said the high cost of the anti-corrosion chemicals was a key factor in deciding what to do with the pipelines, but not the main consideration. But Lexin’s pipeline problems weren’t finished. There would be another gas leak in April 2016, which the AER described as medium consequence, meaning it could have a moderate impact on people and wildlife.

After the leak was reported to the AER, the regulator directed Lexin to shut down the main north-south pipeline until repair digs at multiple sites could be completed. The pipeline system was never reopened.

Keeping Mazeppa safe

Workers at the plant said 2016 was a challenging year for them. Larry Nagle started working at Mazeppa in 1986 and retired after it was shut down by the AER.

“We were limping along, in some cases, which is not a good situation with a sour gas plant,” he said. “You make sure that everything is operating in a proper way.”

He offered the following example to highlight just how bad the company’s financial situation had become: “They quit buying potable water for the plant in the spring of 2016. The company that was supplying water said, ‘We’re not bringing any more water because you haven’t paid us.'”

Larry Nagle describes working conditions at the Mazeppa plant0:34

In addition to concerns about working conditions, the union representing Mazeppa workers contacted the AER with a list of problems at the plant, including widespread corrosion and Lexin’s refusal to test contaminated water in its ponds. Nagle was one of only a few employees left at the plant in the spring and summer of 2016. He stayed on until late July, just before Lexin wrote to the AER saying it could no longer be responsible for Mazeppa.

“We were basically security guards, but we were only one man per shift,” he said. “That is not a safe way to run anything. Anything can happen when you are walking around. You could fall, trip and there is no one to help you.”

Lexin and the AER

Lexin and the AER are currently fighting in court over unpaid fees and the regulator’s move to force Lexin into receivership back in March. Lexin is appealing the receivership order and largely blames the regulator for its problems. Many of the court documents are very technical, but they do show the AER’s growing frustration with Lexin. For example, the regulator lists all the safety orders and directions it issued to the company beginning in February 2016, including a notice of non-compliance for its failure to install a dilution gas meter at a sour gas facility.

It also ordered Lexin to clean up a hydrocarbon spill at the Mazeppa plant, and to prove that it still had access to some of its wells after not paying surface leases. The regulator told CBC News it made 276 inspections at Lexin sites in 2016. In his memo to CBC News, Smith said “we are convinced that no pipeline was operated in unsafe condition. The monitoring systems were in place and backed up by increased frequency operator inspections.”

Smith said pipelines that were identified as a risk were de-pressurized and purged to be put in a safe state. In July 2016, Lexin wrote to the AER saying that because it had laid off nearly all its staff, it could no longer respond to an emergency at the plant or its related infrastructure.

In letters to the AER in January 2017, Lexin said it wouldn’t be able to provide health and safety measures for its sour gas wells after February 15, and that it believed the situation created serious health and safety concerns for all concerned. On February 14, the AER suspended Lexin’s operations, in March the company was forced into receivership.

A mess to clean up

The company may have been shut down but its problems remain. Many of Lexin’s natural gas wells will need to be reclaimed, others will be sold. They are now the responsibility of the Orphan Well Association, which is funded by the energy industry but has also received public money in the past.

The list of creditors is long and there are also questions about whether the Mazeppa plant will be sold or decommissioned. Both the AER and Lexin acknowledge there were health and safety concerns at the company’s sour gas operations. The AER is managing those issues now, but it’s unclear who exactly will be ultimately responsible for the cleanup, once this has played out in the courts. You can read more about the AER’s claims against Lexin Resources here[3].

Lexin’s statement of defence is below and available here[4].

Lexin Statement of Defence

CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content

References

  1. ^ longer respond to an emergency (www1.aer.ca)
  2. ^ In a memo to CBC News (www.documentcloud.org)
  3. ^ here (www.grantthornton.ca)
  4. ^ here (www.documentcloud.org)
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