Public meeting notes: The October 22, 2022 ‘bomb’ scare at Billy Bishop Toronto city Airport
The meeting was held 1 December, 2022
Panelists: City of Toronto, Diane Simon (member of Windward Co-op, 34 Little Norway Crescent) Toronto Police Service (TPS), Toronto Port Authority (Ports Toronto)
City of Toronto: Steve Banton, Coordinator, Office of Emergency Management
Toronto Police Services (TPS): Scott Purches, Izzy Carvalho (14 division), and Israel Bernardo, local community police: Matthew Hoy and Justin Storey (not on panel, but were present)
Toronto Port Authority (Ports Toronto): Mike Antle, Director Airport Operations & Planning at Ports Toronto, Mike MacWilliam, Director, Ground side Services at Ports Toronto
Moderator: Joan Prowse (Chair of BQNA)
Media: CBC, CityTV, CP24
City of Toronto: need to strengthen city’s ability to prepare for responses to major incidents.
Windward Co-op statement: Problematic handling of the situation – lack of communicating for emergency services, and lack of support for residents with special needs. Needs that were identified which were not properly handled were community members who needed electricity for their wheelchairs, oxygen machine, access to medication, food, etc. Traumatic experience for those who were impacted. The situation highlighted gaps in the system, especially with proximity to the airport and require a plan in place for future incidents.
People who were watching CP24 were better informed than the police at the scene or the people in the local community. Note: TPS agreed with this fact.
TPS statement: Scott Purches from Division 14. Important to hear the perspective from everyone in the community. Regarding insight into the investigation – TPS was unable to provide all information to public as they have to protect some response techniques. Results from test indicated a tangible device with explosive substance, therefore they contacted the City of Toronto Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU). Initial evaluation, a 300-meter parameter investigation was required. Arrested suspect, interrogated, and released as per protocol. TPS only received investigative updates, while EDU members investigated items. Slow and meticulous method resulted in a long duration to complete.
3-level TPS response: major incidents, disaster incidents, and emergency response. This one was an investigational emergency response, a longer investigational cycle that took a number of hours. Apologized for impact to community.
Ports Toronto statement: completed an emergency response drill earlier in the day of this real emergency, and it was coincidental that they uncovered the suspicious explosive substance. We agree there was a lack of comprehensive information dissemination to the community.
Moderator: Was the person who identified the item, simply hypersensitive due to the emergency response exercise?
Ports Toronto answer: individual was not hypersensitive, training was to recognize certain circumstances and was part of exercise, and the individual who identified the package was part of the training.
Diane: although package was identified earlier on, why did it take so long to identify that it was explosive substance?
Moderator: who do they contact if they identify this urgency?
Ports Toronto: there is an emergency line for the airport events, depending on what the event is. The emergency line has protocols to follow and assess. In this case, it was a suspicious item, and they have a checklist/protocol to follow.
Maureen: at what point does it escalate to the police? Community tried calling Ports Authority, no response for 8 hours (until 9pm)
Ports Toronto answer: Airport emergency line is for Airport staff to directly report incidents. Lack of response was likely because staff were occupied with the incident.
Moderator: What time were police contacted?
TPS (Scott) answer: unsure how long that call took from identification to calling 911. Within first few mins of TPS on scene, 2 TPS cars were left right near where this was occurring and the TPS themselves walked away from the scene. Didn’t send personnel to retrieve cars until much later. Had to leave it to EDU to conduct test. The response escalated within the first few minutes, and the investigation took hours. First step was to identify who has association with the device, identify who the suspects are and then requires TPS to canvas the area. Took time to investigate the suspects/individuals. If TPS needed to be there for a long time, they would have called the city. They couldn’t predict how long they would be there and therefore couldn’t call the city to send emergency response team.
Parks Not Planes: We want to zero in on testing – understand it was bicycle battery (likely lithium ion). Testing identified explosive – was there an issue with testing? Why did it take 7 hours to investigate? What was going on with the test? Did TPS verify if there was explosive content? Was there something wrong with the test?
Ports Toronto answer: tests are utilized to search for certain explosives, if they identify an item of concern, will notify TPS. Then TPS will bring in EDU.
TPS answer: does not have capacity to conduct testing, only EDU can do that.
TPS (I. Carvalho) answer: does not have test to detect what that substance was, the test only indicated that positive for a substance explosive in nature. TPS could only follow protocol within the defined parameters
Reminder to community: Airport cannot release details about the substance identified.
Moderator: if owners of bicycle were able to identify what the item was, why did TPS not accept the response? TPS answer: cannot take a response of such nature at face value, must follow their protocol as explosive substance was identified.
Diane: there was a significant lack of communication, the community wants to know what we can do in the future to plan ahead.
Lynne (member of the community): TPS and Toronto Community Housing (TCH) did best they could. Some community members were left there within 10ft from the supposed “bomb”, or explosive device, however community member did not feel cared for because there was no support for those impacted.
TPS answer: This was a learning opportunity – didn’t get busses and shelter in time, however EMS was onsite. Scott confirmed with police members on site. EMS triaged people to hospital as precaution, and there was medical monitoring. Hope that it was unique experience. Limited resources at the time, tended to people as best as they could. If TPS knew this would go on for 8 hours, they would have made a phone call to the city’s [of Toronto] emergency services.
Lynne: Can we set up a permanent plan for these types of incidents in the future? TPS answer: We are looking into this for future events.
Unnamed member from Windward Co-op: TPS can’t tell difference between bomb and battery. We have people in downtown who are part of the military who can tell the difference between the two. Could the military have been called in? It is a two-hour drive from Toronto or a helicopter could have flown in. It would have saved half the time being evacuated. TPS answer: if we had to notify military, they would come in from Trenton and another protocol would’ve been deployed.
Unnamed impacted community member from 680 QQ (Arcadia Co-op): Wanted to know the number of impacted people. Talking about class action lawsuit because a lot of people were impacted.
TPS answer: couldn’t define number of impacted people however there were upward of 10 busses deployed onsite.
City of Toronto answer: will need to come up with better plan to manage in the future.
Impacted community member, Wendy from 680 QQ (Arcadia Co-op): incurred a $400 hotel bill. What is the remedy for that?
Moderator: will be included as part of the solution as a point of concern.
Note: Abra Rissi, the Chief of Staff for Toronto City Councillor Asma Malik - Ward 10, Spadina–Fort York subsequently circulated this link for reimbursement:
Online Questions and Feedback
Ursula: I keep hearing this is a learning experience. What has been learnt? Has a contingency plan been put together yet for what should have happened? Do you recognize that other resources should have been called in? The dialogue I am listening to sounds more like this incident just happened and you don’t know enough to offer any conclusions of what steps should have been taken that were not taken. In hindsight who else should have been called in?
Elizabeth: I'd like to understand what the airport authority and TPS learned and what they would do differently if (hopefully not) there is another incident
Other Online Comments: Why were some buildings not evacuated if there was a threat of glass in windows being blown out? Why were some planes still operating? Why did the police not tell anything on social media? We need planning, not just better communication.
Summarized input for the room: what were the lessons learnt? What is the contingency plan? What are the next steps?
Questions from in-person attendees:
Hanna: from 680 QQ (Arcadia Co-op): building wasn’t evacuated, when asked a TPS officer what was going on, were rudely told to go back inside. There were vulnerable people in the building including children. If it was such a security risk, why were there many people coming in and out, and some couldn’t get back into their homes. There were also some impacted people who couldn’t afford to get a hotel for the night. Moderator: root of the problem is communication
Hanna: Media knew more what was going on before TPS could share details
Unnamed member from 680 QQ (Arcadia Co-op): why was their building not evacuated? If emergency drill was occurring, why was the community not notified? It caused mass confusion because we did not know if this was a training or a real emergency.
Ports Toronto answer: situation has never happened before on the day of an exercise.
Unnamed member from 680 QQ (Arcadia Co-op): Going forward we are requesting quarterly meetings with the airport about their future preparations.
Hal, member of BBTCA Community Liaison Committee: who is responsible for preparing disaster [management] plan?
Ports Toronto: Disaster plan does not communicate with outside agencies; disaster plans and emergency procedures are internal to airport.
Hal: at what point does responsibility for public communications transfer to Police?
Ports Toronto answer: development of the plan resides with airport. They design response plans, but do not have jurisdiction over every event. In this instance, explosive device was not on airport property and was therefore beyond airport scope. Every situation is going to dictate how we respond to that. Fuel truck proximity to the emergency scene were far enough away not to be impacted.
Natasha from Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (WNC): Responds as a community – how do we support each other as a community when these things happen? We need to review emergency protocols and how to respond to the community. Community centre – not enough staff on that day as it was a Saturday. Recommend evaluating emergency protocols with condo and co-op board. Community centre can open space for future dialogue and be part of the solution.
Next steps identified
Have a representative from TPS on the BBTCA Community Liaison Community.
Airport to put out notices to the public regarding schedule for emergency response drills that go beyond simply informing CLC community reps. The reps are volunteers – this should be a responsibility of PT as well. More information ahead of time is needed.
Need better crisis management plan/contingency planning from Ports Toronto, Toronto Police Services and City Emergency Planning. They need to work in tandem.
Enact something similar to an Amber Alert protocol – can something like this be available to the community?
Quarterly meetings with Ports Toronto (or other) to discuss explosion event planning within radius of airport.
Work with each building to put a crisis management plan in place to adopt to specific building needs in event of an explosion threat within radius of airport.
Utilize better technology as many people online could not properly hear the panel or questions asked (i.e. the microphones were not very loud)
Community police contacts
Link to 14 Division contacts
Matthew Hoy’s contact: Matthew.Hoy@torontopolice.on.ca
Justin Storey’s contact: firstname.lastname@example.org