Police charge man after attack on Edmonton city hall

“Our officers are working closely with our national security partners on this investigation,” McFee said

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A man accused of firing a gun and throwing homemade bombs in Edmonton city hall is facing a string of charges and is under investigation by national security police.

Police on Wednesday charged Bezhani Sarvar, 28, with six crimes including possession of incendiary material, arson, throwing explosives with intent to cause harm and reckless use of a weapon. The Commissionaires, which provides security services at city hall and other government buildings, confirmed Sarvar worked as a security guard for the company.

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Edmonton city police continue to probe the incident alongside the RCMP’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team. In a statement Wednesday, EPS Chief Dale McFee said police are also reviewing an apparent manifesto video “that may be related to this incident.” 

“Our officers are working closely with our national security partners on this investigation,” McFee said. “I would like to reassure the public that we believe there is no further threat to public safety at this time. The investigation is in its early stages, and we will continue to update Edmontonians as it progresses.”

An RCMP spokesperson confirmed INSET is “engaged and actively working with” city police on the investigation but declined to comment further.  

City hall was locked down and evacuated Tuesday morning after a man armed with a long-gun entered the building through the parkade, fired shots and threw a Molotov cocktail. Councillors — some of whom were in a committee meeting at city hall — were told there was an “active shooter” in the building, while Grade 1 kids on a field trip sheltered in place or were whisked to safety.

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Police said the man fired several rounds into the ceiling, walls and windows but did not strike any people. He later dropped the weapon and surrendered to an unarmed security guard — another Commissionaires employee who served seven years in the Canadian army as an infantryman — who detained him until police arrived.  

Investigators believe the man acted alone and say there is no ongoing risk to the public. City hall remained closed Wednesday.

Edmonton city hall shooting
A property manager speaks with police outside a northeast Edmonton home on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, following the shooting at Edmonton city hall on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Court records list the address as the home of Bezhani Sarvar, the alleged shooter. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Court records show Sarvar lived in a four-storey apartment building across from Clareview Town Centre. Two police vehicles were parked outside the ground level unit Wednesday morning while detectives awaited a search warrant. A property manager said she had never had any issues with the tenant.

Court records identify the weapon used in the attack as an “assault rifle.” A firearms expert who viewed security footage of the incident said the man in the video appeared to be carrying an SKS rifle with an aftermarket stock.

News of charges comes after a video surfaced on YouTube in which a man wearing a Commissionaires security jacket discusses his “mission” while seated behind the wheel of a car. The clip has since been deleted.

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The speaker greets the viewer in Arabic, then tells the viewer he is “not a psychopath, I do not believe in bloodshed. I am not one of these monsters that hurt children, that hurt innocents, and promote wars.”

Over the next four minutes, the speaker jumps from topic to topic, attacking everything from “tyranny” and “corruption” to “the wokeism disease,” multiculturalism and the war in Gaza. He also mentions housing affordability, clean water, immigration, taxes, racism and inflation, and urges “respect for Canadian laws.”

The speaker also makes reference to having a wife and children.

John McCoy, executive director of the Organization for the Prevention of Violence, an Edmonton group that monitors and aims to stop hate-motivated violence, said the speaker’s monologue struck him as an example of what experts call “salad bar extremism.”

“It’s a mishmash of grievances, ideologies, often layered with mental health issues or mental health disorders,” he said.

Edmonton city hall lockdown by police
One person was arrested after gunshots were fired inside Edmonton city hall and a Molotov cocktail was thrown from the second floor on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. No injuries were reported. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

Salad bar extremism differs from more traditional extremism, which is often more ideologically rigid and based on group membership, McCoy said. He likened the stream of topics in the speaker’s video to clips on the social media platform TikTok.

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“Increasingly, younger people seem to be taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that from different belief systems,” he said. “And I think you can see this in his comments.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims issued a statement on the attack, saying it is “horrified and shocked” by what happened and thanked first responders.

“While more investigation needs to occur, based on an alleged video manifesto, the attacker appears to have provided a plethora of reasons for his attack but does seem to have been primarily motivated by an alt-right agenda involving concerns around municipal taxes, inflation, the cost of living, and hatred for multiculturalism,” the council stated. “We encourage Canadians to allow the investigation to continue before coming to any conclusions.” 

Safety protocols will change at city hall: Sohi

In an interview with Postmedia, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi praised those who responded to the shooting and said help will be made available to city hall employees traumatized by the incident.

“I appeal to Edmontonians that we will get through this,” he said. “This is an unimaginable, very dramatic event that has taken place in our city. Many people are shaken by it, many people are experiencing the trauma of witnessing this horrific incident happening in our city so we all need to pull together, we all need to work together and show we are supporting each other.”

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“Edmonton is a place that has welcomed thousands and thousands of newcomers for decades and decades, and a multicultural city, a city that takes pride in being an inclusive and welcoming place for everyone,” Sohi said. “So there’s no room in our city for discrimination, or for any sort of marginalization based on whatever people’s perceptions might be.”

Edmonton city hall
Damage from small fires can be seen in the city room of Edmonton city hall on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, one day after a man was arrested with Molotov cocktails and at least one firearm. Photo by Shaughn Butts /Postmedia

Sohi told Postmedia safety protocols will change at city hall.

“We obviously need to reassess the situation and the safety review is underway. We will rely on the advice of professionals,” he said. “Things definitely will change because this is absolutely a devastating event that has taken place.”

Sohi also thanked the security guard who arrested the man.

“(I am) very appreciative of his involvement and how he handled the situation and got things under control. It could have been much, much worse.”

Commissionaires said Sarvar had been an employee since 2019 and worked at locations around Edmonton, though never city hall itself.

The company said the employee who detained him “went above and beyond his normal duties as a Commissionaire.”

Sarvar has a bail hearing scheduled for Thursday morning.

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