On February 11, 2019, multiple Edmonton schools began receiving phone calls threatening either a bomb or impending attack by an armed suspect. The calls were made using an online calling app, and the caller reportedly had a Scottish or British accent. The schools were placed on heightened alert, and in some cases initiated lockdown procedures while EPS patrol officers responded.
The EPS School Resource Officer Unit immediately began coordinating with all the affected schools, and it quickly became evident that these calls were part of a large-scale hoax. The EPS Cyber Crime Investigations Unit (CCIU) was able to link these calls to similar calls being made to Calgary schools, and a school in Texas, USA. In total, nine schools and one bank in Edmonton and five schools in Calgary received hoax phone calls over the course of February 11, 12 and 20, 2019.
Following an extensive investigation, the calls were traced back to the UK. After contacting their counterparts in the UK, CCIU learned that these calls had been linked to over 80 similar hoax calls made to the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and the USA.
“The amount of school and police resources these calls take up, not to mention the distress they cause to children, teachers and parents, is unacceptable,” says Det Philip Hawkins, with EPS CCIU. “We left no stone unturned in this lengthy investigation, even across international borders, and three suspects are now facing charges in their home country,” adds Det. Hawkins.
The investigation, which included collaboration from police services in Canada, the USA, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom has resulted in numerous charges against three youths, who are between the ages of 15 and 17, and thus cannot be named.
Each of the three youths are facing these charges under Scottish law:
Section 51 Criminal Law 1977
Section 127 Communications Act 2003
Section 38 Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010
Section 85 Postal Services Act 2000
Common law – Wasting Police Time
Common law – Culpable and Reckless Conduct
“While we were able to identify early on that these calls were a hoax, we take these occurrences very seriously,” says Sgt. Em Chan, with the EPS School Resource Officer (SRO) Unit. “Our SROs were able to alert and coordinate with all Edmonton schools to help mitigate the impact and keep everyone as safe, calm and reassured as possible.”
In total, the February 2019 series of hoax calls resulted in the deployment of 47 EPS vehicles and affected more than 4,000 Edmonton students, with six Edmonton schools placed in lockdown for a cumulative total of 4.75 hours.