CHARLOTTETOWN — Traffic slowed to a crawl and offices emptied across Prince Edward Island Wednesday as parents raced to collect their kids in the wake of province-wide school evacuations triggered by a bomb threat.
"It was kind of nerve-wracking," Morgan McNeill, a student at Holland College, said after being evacuated from the Charlottetown school.
RCMP spokesman Sgt. Kevin Baillie said a fax was sent to Ottawa RCMP Wednesday morning from someone threatening to detonate bombs at several schools. Schools were notified within 10 minutes, he said.
"There's been no threat found. Everybody is safe," said Baillie at a midday news conference.
RCMP Staff Sergeant Kevin A. Baillie speaks to reporters outside the provincial RCMP headquarters in Charlottetown, P.E.I., Sept. 21, 2016. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
Late Wednesday afternoon, Mounties said a "comprehensive threat assessment" was undertaken and police are confident the threat was not credible. A statement said physical checks were conducted at every school and the facilities were safe for reopening.
About 19,000 students poured out of more than 60 English and French public schools Wednesday morning, some younger children crying as they ran from their school to designated safe locations, where they were met by buses and parents.
Post-secondary institutions were also shut down.
Charlottetown resident Beth Johnston received messages from one of her two young sons mid-morning that they were being ordered to leave their schools and head to specified safe areas in the city.
Evacuations clam and organized: parent
Johnston said her sons, who are in Grade 6 and 9 at two different schools, described evacuations that were calm and organized for the most part even as texts from students were suggesting there had been bomb threats.
Her 11-year-old was told they to go to a nearby park, but wasn't given information about the possible threat.
"He said people were running and crying," she said, adding that she was impressed by the school's response. "It was swift, it was organized and that's the way you want people to behave when there's any potential threat against your children."
Still, she wasn't sure if she would be sending her kids to school Thursday. PEI Public Safety posted on Twitter Wednesday evening that all public schools would reopen on Thursday for normal hours.
The scare caused backups and traffic hiccups in the small city and other communities as parents tried to reach the safe zones to pick up their children.
'Difficult day' for parents: Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was briefed on the situation Wednesday by the Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
"As a parent, I know how worrisome this type of situation can be and I know that the affected parents must be having a very difficult day," Trudeau said at a media availability in Ottawa.
The RCMP said schools activated their emergency evacuation plans soon after they became aware of the evolving situation. However, bomb personnel and canine units were not sent to the schools and police were asking teachers to be on the lookout for anything suspicious in the facilities.
"Officers have gone to every school and consulted with staff, but we're asking the staff to check the schools and see if they note anything out of place or suspicious," he said.
Nova Scotia schools faced threat
Baillie said police were looking at the possibility the fax is connected to threats against three schools in Nova Scotia.
NSCC Marconi Campus in Sydney, Cape Breton University and the NSCC technology campus in Halifax were also evacuated due to potential threats. Halifax police said nothing suspicious was found at the Halifax NSCC campus.
Police in Winnipeg said a similar fax was received by the Winnipeg School Division, although no schools were evacuated.
Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Rob Carver said the division received a fax at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday that contained a threat to all of the division's 78 schools.
Carver said police had been following the situation in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia.
"Based on the similarities between the nature of our threat and the ones on the coast, we were leaning to the conclusion that the threat here was unfounded," said Carver.
"We deployed resources both to the school division head offices as well as schools to make sure that students and staff were not at any risk, but we have not evacuated schools in Winnipeg."
In P.E.I., Paul Trainor was stopping into visit an antique and collectibles store in Victoria when he heard about the evacuations.
"It was a weird scene to see. There were so many cars."
Trainor, who is president of the P.E.I. Business Federation, said the store owner had to temporarily close and let his staff go for the afternoon so he could go get his child, but was able to reopen a short time later.
Trainor said he didn't know the extent of the impact on business, but estimated it would affect about 15 per cent of the 500 companies in the federation.
"It probably causes more harm for small businesses...because they're the workers in those companies," he said. "When those types of things happen it causes a ripple effect all the way through the economy."
McNeill said someone came into their Holland College classroom and told them to pick up their books and evacuate immediately. He said people flooded the hallways as they made their way out of the school.
"There were some who were a bit more worried about it but for the most part, (the situation) was pretty controlled," the 26-year-old student of sports and leisure management said in an interview Wednesday.
McNeill said he could see a helicopter flying above his car as he drove away from the area.
"It was a weird scene to see. There were so many cars," he said.