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Bomb threats to schools may be coming from offshore: police chief

Threats are heavily encrypted and difficult to trace, but HRPS is 'hopeful' they will identify their source
Halton Regional Police file photo

Bomb threats made to local schools in connection with the controversy around an Oakville Trafalgar High School teacher's attire in the classroom may be coming from offshore, Halton Regional Council heard last week.

Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) Chief Stephen Tanner told Regional council the threats are difficult to trace but are being investigated.

"They have been very concerning," Tanner said, answering a question from Oakville councillor Sean O'Meara about the threats to the schools.

Oakville Trafalgar High School (OTHS) has been the focus of protests and news reports since the start of the school year, when a male shop teacher returned in September as a trans woman, wearing revealing clothing and extremely large prosthetic breasts. The controversy was covered by news outlets around the world after photos and videos of the teacher were leaked on social media by students.

The Halton District School Board (HDSB) has supported the teacher, saying little about the matter other than that its core values stress inclusiveness and protections for those identifying as a member of an underserved and underrepresented group. The response has outraged many parents, who have since formed the group Students First Ontario and are seeking a legal recourse.

Since then OTHS and other HDSB schools have received more than a dozen bomb threats. The teacher in question was said the be substitute teaching in other HDSB schools in December, including Burlington's Frank J. Hayden Secondary School, which received a bomb threat on Dec. 16.

School board staff members have also received death threats.

"We believe a lot of them are coming from one or two individuals, possibly offshore, and encrypted," Tanner said of the threats in his presentation to council. "(There are) all sorts of email encryption issues. We are trying to track it down.

"I would love to go after costs eventually for what that has cost us as a police service and a community. 

"I think the school board is moving now toward addressing different things, internal to the school board and not a police issue, but we are very proud of our frontline response, our K9 unit, that's our bomb technicians, who have cleared so many facilities."

In a special meeting of the HDSB trustees on Jan. 3, a motion was passed asking Director Curtis Ennis to draft a professional dress policy for all board teachers.

Such a policy was floated earlier in the year but HDSB said in November it would be discriminatory and could violate teacher's human rights. The trustees' motion asks that HDSB prepare a report by March 1 and deliver an interim report in February.

Meanwhile, the school reportedly received another bomb threat last Friday. In a statement, HRPS said threats at different Halton targets have been received in recent weeks. It read:

"Over the past several weeks, the Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) has received threats to schools, and other public locations throughout the Halton region. These threats typically indicate a bomb or explosive and or other threats of violence and are usually received via email. While none of the threats to date have proved to be credible, the HRPS investigates each and every one and initiates appropriate bomb threat protocols when necessary.

"HRPS investigators believe all these threats to be connected and our officers are working tirelessly with our community partners and other agencies to bring these investigations to a successful conclusion. We recognize these threats continue to be extremely stressful for the community and those specifically targeted. The safety and security of the public remains our top priority, each and every day."

Chief Tanner told regional councillors police are "hopeful" of identifying the source of the threats and continue to actively investigate.

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Tania Theriault

About the Author: Tania Theriault

Tania is a print and broadcast journalist with over 15 years experience who has recently returned to Canada and is keen to learn all there is to know about Burlington and its welcoming people
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