Russell Bowers often arrives early at work, but it’s a good thing he didn’t yesterday.
He might have run into a guy carrying a gun.
A Newfoundlander, Bowers is the host of CBC Daybreak in Calgary, an arts and entertainment magazine heard across Alberta that airs weekend mornings (like our own WAM). He was due to go on the air at 6 am yesterday, but a gunman arrived at the building before he did.
This was the source of some concern for the local police department, and resulted in closure of the building for several hours. Here’s how the story was reported in the Calgary Herald:
A distraught man who held police at bay in a five-hour armed standoff from the foyer of the CBC building is facing charges for the incident.
The man, believed to be in his 70s, was armed with a handgun when he entered the building on Westmount Boulevard around 2 a.m. Sunday.
Duty inspector Geoff Gawlinski said the man appeared to be having a disagreement with his former employer and wanted CBC to publicize it.
"He wanted his story to be heard," he said.
Police responded, calling out the service's tactical team, hostage negotiators and canine unit.
The man did not threaten anyone.
Gawlinski said there was some difficulty in getting in touch with the man, which contributed to the lengthy standoff.
“I was not in the building,” Bowers said, in a telephone interview. “It was funny – I was supposed to go in a lot earlier. I was thinking about heading in for 3 (am) or something, but I just wound up lingering and didn’t go in until about 4:15. I didn’t even get close to the building. The police had the place barricaded off, so I got intercepted by the cops on the way in. They told me the situation; that somebody had gotten into our foyer (with a gun).”
The outside door of the building is open to the public day and night, Bowers explained. “There’s another interior door that gets you access to our waiting area, and then another door that gives you access to the actual building. So he was two locked doors away from getting himself inside the building, so he kind of just got himself stuck in the foyer there.”
Bowers surmised that, at that point, the man was probably trying to use the phone in the lobby to call someone in the newsroom. “As far as I know, there weren’t any employees inside or out who were in any danger.”
Meanwhile, Bowers and his colleagues were out in the street, trying to figure out what to do about that morning’s broadcast.
“I guess it was around 5 am and it looked like we definitely wouldn’t make it for 6, so we started planning for who would take over the time slot,” Bowers said. “We resolved it by getting Saskatchewan to take over the time slot, because their show comes on at the same time as mine. I don’t think the host even knew that she was broadcasting to Alberta, until someone told her about the situation.”
Access to the building was granted around 7:30 am, soon after the man was arrested, he added.
“We managed to get back on the air for an hour, from 8:00 to 9:00 o’clock. I acknowledged the situation, and did a couple of items I had planned to do anyway. But, as a bit of a side story, the computer software system in my announce booth crashed, so, in the midst of everything else, all the technology that I use to put the show on the air cacked out. So that was an interesting moment.”
Other than that it, he said, the situation resolved itself without incident.
“From what I understand it was more or less an issue around advocacy – this guy figured we could do something for him (by giving publicity). I know about as much as you do about what happened, but it sounds like this gentleman has overall issues. People come to the CBC all the time, looking for us to advocate for one issue or another, maybe because they see us as being on their side, and I’m sure it happens (with other media) too. But as for why he showed at that hour, why he felt he needed to bring a gun, I don’t know.”
According to the Calgary Herald story, CBC security protocols will be reviewed because of this incident. Bowers also expects some introspection within the current affairs side, and how it interfaces with the public
“So now the handwringing begins internally, about how do we handle people like this… could we have seen this coming? Did we know anything about him beforehand? Because, sometimes, people come up to you and tell you something, and you just don’t think about it until ‘Oh my god that guy talked to me yesterday.’ I think there might be questions like that.”