A Greater Victoria man faces charges of mischief, and possibly more, for interrupting service at Victoria International Airport with two decommissioned hand grenades.
The man, in his late 40s with a past criminal history and military service, has been released with a court date.
The discovery of those inert devices sparked the closure of Victoria International Airport to all commercial traffic for several hours on Tuesday (May 24). Service resumed at 8:30 p.m., following the arrival from the Lower Mainland of an RCMP bomb disposal unit.
Sidney/North Saanich RCMP Cpl. Andres Sanchez said in a press briefing late Wednesday morning that police do not know why the man would bring such devices onto an airplane but are investigating whether he was travelling to Ukraine.
“He was flying out of country,” Sanchez said. “We don’t know the final destination, specifically, but we are investigating that.”
He noted possible reasons for owning such devices could include training purposes, memorabilia, or as part of a personal collection. The man is not currently serving with the armed forces but has served in the past.
The man has no “significant criminal history.” While police said there was some type of criminal history, it was “not related.”
A Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) employee scanned one of the man’s bags through the typical process and became concerned as it appeared to contain suspicious-looking items – two of which appeared as incendiary devices, later described by RCMP “as decommissioned, inert hand grenades.”
The Sidney/North Saanich RCMP was contacted at around 1:30 p.m. on May 24, and after a brief investigation took the man who claimed responsibility for the bag into custody.
An area of YYJ was cordoned off, at a distance recommended by explosive disposal experts, RCMP said in a statement. As the investigation continued, a second bag belonging to the same man was discovered, but this bag could not be safely scanned or examined.
“Out of an abundance of caution, and with consultation with both NavCan and Victoria Airport Authority, it was decided that the departures wing would be temporarily closed to ensure the safety of the public,” said Sidney/North Saanich RCMP in a Wednesday morning statement.
Members of the RCMP explosives disposal unit travelled to the Island, arriving at 7 p.m. and examined the bags, determining the items were inert military surplus explosives.
“The RCMP is reminding travellers to confirm the items you are travelling with are permitted on aircraft or that you have prior permission to travel with certain items,” said Sanchez in the Wednesday morning statement.
Geoff Dickson, the president and chief executive officer of the Victoria Authority (VAA) apologized for the disruptions.
“It was absolutely the right decision,” he said during a Wednesday announcement for additional support for the airport from the federal government. “I’m sorry for the disruptions that it caused for people coming and going and travelling.”
Sanchez clarified it was not the RCMP’s decision. “It was ultimately NAVCAN that made the decision to shut down the airport,” he said. “Essentially, when these things happen, it’s a group discussion.”
The RCMP made a recommendation following a risk assessment consultation with the authority and NAVCAN, he said. “And ultimately, it was NAVCAN that made the decision.”
Dickson defended the airport’s communication process. While RCMP was contacted at 1:30 p.m., the airport did not inform the public that the airport would be closing until some two hours later.
“The event was discovered at 1:30 p.m.,” he said. “Clearly, there is a risk assessment that needs to take place … you can imagine it’s a fairly significant step to take in terms of closing down the airport to flight activity,” said Dickson. “We are going to put the safety of our guests and employees and anyone touching the airport first and foremost. It was absolutely the right decision to make.”
Dickson said staff train regularly for these types of situations, adding staff will debrief the situation, a process that will include the RCMP.
“We are constantly planning for these types of events and thankfully they don’t happen frequently, but we are always prepared to address them if and when.”
Dickson said VAA will take its time to assess the economic damage. “But frankly, it’s not important to me. What is important is keeping people safe and it was absolutely the right decision.”
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