Lockdown at Casa Loma campus ends without serious injuries but lack of a PA system criticized by students
Updated April 8, 12:00 p.m. with information on arrest
According to Toronto Police Sergeant James McDonald a violent incident involving an edged weapon between two people believed to be students at George Brown College ended in a lockdown of the entire Casa Loma campus on Wednesday, April 6.
Police arrested Raja Nasir, 18, at noon on Wednesday shortly before the lockdown was lifted. He is charged with assault with a weapon and is scheduled to appear in court April 8 at 10 a.m. at 1000 Finch Ave West. The charges have not been proven in court. Police say that the accused and the victim did not know each other.
Robert McMechan, the Student Association’s (SA) senior co-ordinator of collaborative programs, had just sat down at his desk with a coffee when he heard noise coming through the office windows. The SA funds The Dialog student newspaper and our offices are also at Casa Loma campus.
“A student was screaming that someone was trying to stab him,” said McMechan who said that then the victim came into the building with a small gash on the side of his neck. SA staff helped the student with first aid and called security who he said were there in 45 seconds with police arriving on scene about five to 10 minutes later.
Toronto Police recommended that the school lockdown to both ensure student safety and so they could apprehend the suspect.
The lockdown started at 10:50 a.m. and was lifted at 12:20 p.m. after police had searched the buildings for the suspect. The college alerted students about the lockdown through the school’s telephone system, which doubles as a makeshift PA, at 11:05 a.m. and on social media at 11:12 a.m. The college sent emails alerting students about the lockdown at 11:24 a.m. and updated them at 11:55 a.m. and 12:33 p.m. once the lockdown was lifted.
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Reaction to the lockdown was mixed with some students praising faculty while others criticized how the college reacted.
“If that’s our lockdown god forbid someone actually comes Columbine-style one day, that’s not going to help anything,” said Travis Narduzzi, a student in architecture technology referring to a 1999 school shooting in the United States that killed 13 and wounded 20 people. “It’s just going to keep innocents in the building, that’s all it did. There was no lockdown within the facility, it was only a perimeter lockdown.”
Leslie Quinlan, the college’s vice president of human resources, was across the street in her office during the lockdown.
“I wasn’t on campus so I can’t comment on students walking around but we’ll obviously do a review of what happened and if there’s anything we see that we can improve on we will take that under advisement,” said Quinlan. “We’ll also take advice from the police on handling matters like this.”
One of the problems that happened in the lockdown was that for some reason the notice of the lockdown wasn’t sent to the SA’s phones, even though their offices were right at the entrance where the attack took place. A lack of joint training for a lockdown was also highlighted by SA management.
“We’ve received no training in terms of a lockdown process from security.” said Lorraine Gajadharsingh the SA’s executive director who said she was also concerned that police said students were going in and out of classrooms and people were letting them leave the building during the lockdown.
“Communication, honestly, wasn’t terrible. Security was here and they were speaking with the police and speaking with us. I feel that with the SA that we were definitely kept in the loop,” said Gajadharsingh.
“I’m not going to get into my opinion on how the lockdown went, I recommended a lockdown, the procedure was started by the school as they know it, and ultimately it was a safe result.” said Sgt. McDonald who said that when a lockdown happens students should go to the nearest classroom or safe space and lock the doors. “That’s the purpose of a lockdown, to ensure student safety and to secondarily help us locate and identify any individuals that are responsible.”
After the lockdown was lifted Quinlan spoke to the student who was the victim of the attack.
“We will make sure that the student has everything that he needs and that he feels safe and secure on campus and if he needs to speak to anyone in counselling we will obviously make that available and make sure that he has what he needs to be comfortable,” said Quinlan adding that the college brought in counsellors to help students who want to talk.
Students needing support can go to the Casa Loma third floor counselling department or contact the Traumatic Event Response Team at 416-415-5000 ext. 4585. Staff can contact their employee assistance plan provider, Shepell, at 1-866-833-7690 according to an email from the college.
“I thank you all for your calm, your patience and your understanding in what was undoubtedly a confusing and troubling morning,” said GBC president Anne Sado in an email to students. “The good news is that the injured student did not require hospitalization and was in good spirits following the altercation.”
Sado said that the college is continuing to work with police to ensure the safety and security of their students.
Carlos Arceo, the SA’s liberal arts and preparatory studies representative, was in a classroom on the fifth floor when he found out about the lockdown by getting text messages from friends in the library.
“The lack of a PA system from the college didn’t make us aware of the situation right away. They announced it over the phone but the way they announced it was ‘This is not a drill, this is a L-O-C-K-D-O-W-N’ It was robotic and it spelled lockdown instead of saying lockdown,” said Arceo.
Arceo said the professor in his class thought the phone was malfunctioning and unplugged it. He estimates it took about 15 minutes for the professor and students in the class to understand that the noise from the phone was the announcement of the lockdown after getting messages and looking on Twitter for more information.
“We turned off the lights and stayed against the wall adjacent to the doors and talked about things,” said Arceo. “We talked about how we lack a PA system at the college which is really something that we need, especially at times like this. We also talked about how we lack a lockdown procedure that I don’t think students know about.”
The college does in fact have a detailed emergency management plan that outlines what to do in a lockdown, but as The Dialog reported in November many students don’t know about it.
Areo said his class was lucky and credits his professor with keeping them calm during the lockdown but said information needs to be communicated better.
“I think the PA system is something that we can really use. The phone is useful but the message was gibberish. It wasn’t clear. We’ve done fire drills before but we haven’t done lockdown drills. We did them in high school but I don’t think we’ve done it here at George Brown.”
Biko Beauttah, the SA’s women and trans representative, was also on the fifth floor alone in a small drawing studio. She said there was no phone where she was but a student who works as studio monitor came by and told her there was a lockdown in progress.
“When they said lockdown I was thinking ‘shooting. shooting. shooting.’ and it wasn’t helping my anxiety at all. I was all alone and I just don’t know what’s going on and I’m here by myself in the dark,” said Beauttah. She credits the staff in the jewelry program who “quickly, efficiently and as soon as they got the announcement told all the classes exactly what to do” including checking the small studio she was in that would have been easy to overlook.
Gajadharsingh said the police were quite surprised that there wasn’t a universal PA system. “I didn’t even realize that we didn’t have a universal PA system until now. But that’s something I would definitely be in support of should that come to college council or a committee.”
George Brown College’s public safety and security department did not reply to requests to comment by press time. This story will be updated should we receive a response from them.