Stelmach wants security review of Edmonton hostage-taking

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach says his government will review the hostage taking at the Workers’ Compensation Board office in Edmonton to ensure something like it doesn’t happen again.

The east side of the Workers Compensation Board building in Edmonton.

EDMONTON — As police charged a man accused of taking nine hostages at the Workers’ Compensation Board in Edmonton, people were questioning how someone with a rifle managed to get inside a building protected by a security system and guards.

Patrick Charles Clayton, 38, was arrested Wednesday night after a 10-hour police standoff that forced the evacuation of more than 700 people in the city’s downtown core.

Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach praised officers for peacefully resolving the potentially deadly standoff but said his government will review how such a hostage taking could happen.

“As a result of this we will of course further discuss how we can improve security,” Stelmach said Thursday.

“I am sure that the Edmonton Police Service, our own security detail, the sheriffs and also the solicitor general and justice minister will be looking at what had happened, and then what we can learn from that and ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future.”

Clayton has been charged with unlawful confinement, pointing a firearm, possession of an offensive weapon dangerous to the public, careless use of a firearm and the use of a firearm during the commission of an offence. He is to appear in court on Friday.

Witnesses said they saw a man milling around the WCB office before 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

Police said around 8:30 a.m. he walked into the building with a high-powered rifle and many rounds of ammunition and fired a single shot into a cinder block wall.

He then moved toward the elevators, ordering people in the area to get inside the elevator with him and went up to the eighth floor.

The man then locked himself and nine hostages inside a conference room, but quickly released one man who had a medical condition. The gunman then dialled 911 and spoke to police.

Officers quickly dispatched a tactical team and police who started to evacuate the building, Insp. Neil Dubord said.

“At the start of this Mr. Clayton was very clear that he had no intention of leaving the WCB building alive,” Dubord said at a news conference.

“But as the day progressed, and through the work of the hostage negotiator, he was able to convince Mr. Clayton to be able to leave peacefully and bring a successful conclusion to this incident.”

Dubord said during the standoff the man released a number of his hostages after receiving cigarettes from police. Eventually only one hostage remained, another person who was trying to resolve a claim with the WCB.

Police said the gunman suffered a number of emotional breakdowns during the day that the negotiator helped talk him through, gaining his trust.

The suspect finally surrendered peacefully to police at around 6:15 p.m. Police do not be believe the gunman had any intention of harming anyone other than himself.

Edmonton police have trained with WCB staff in recent years because the building is considered a high-risk target, Dubord said.

“There are people who become unhappy with the way their claims have been resolved and as a result it puts them at greater risk” he said.

Disgruntled workers have laid siege to the WCB in Alberta before.

In 1993, a gunman took three people hostage in Calgary’s northside office to protest the way his claim had been handled.

No one was injured in the incident, which ended after 4 1/2 hours when the man passed out from painkillers he had been consuming throughout morning.

Gail Cumming, a former WCB case manager who now owns a consulting business, said injured workers are constantly at odds with the board.

Many people feel the board is more concerned with keeping employer premium rates down than on providing good customer service to injured workers, she said.

“I am not surprised that an incident happened,” Cumming said. “I had over 30 calls from people yesterday saying, ‘Gail, it’s not me.’ There are a lot of people that had voiced that somebody is going to do this.”

Many WCB employees were back at work Thursday, but some still shaken up by the ordeal stayed home, said Jennifer Dagsvik, a spokeswoman for the agency, which operates independently but reports to the Alberta government. Counselling services were being provided to employees who need it.

Dagsvik said the evacuation went well during the hostage taking. She declined to comment on the board’s security procedures, which includes guards and employees having to swipe special ID cards to enter the building.

“It was a very, very rare incident that happened,” she said. “We have a good solid procedure in place.”

Dubord said that while police did a good job handling the hostage taking and never really considered shooting the gunman, the standoff could have taken a darker turn.

Ultimately, it would be better to work toward preventing such potentially violent incidents before they happen, he said.

“It depends on mental health professionals, it depends on WCB, it depends on the health-care system, it depends on police,” he said.

“Being proactive is always much better than reactive and finding ourselves in a situation like we did yesterday.”

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