(Canadian OH&S News) — Charlottetown police officers were called to an office of Prince Edward Island’s Department of Family and Human Services on the late afternoon of March 1, after a man armed with a knife had barricaded himself inside a section of the office.
The man entered the office at the Sherwood Business Centre and threatened to do harm to himself with the knife if he was forced out of the building, according to Chief Paul Smith of the Charlottetown Police Services (CPS).
“It was around the end of day, so there wasn’t a lot of staff there at the time,” said Chief Smith. “He was just disgruntled with some of the service he was getting, I guess.”
CPS officers were notified of the incident between 4:30 and 4:45 p.m., Chief Smith added. By the time police arrived at the Sherwood Centre, the man was alone in the office’s washroom area and waiting-room area. “Their staff had no direct contact, nor could he get contact with them.”
Police resolved the situation between 9:30 and 10 p.m., and the man was criminally charged with a court date planned. He was also sent to undergo a mental-health assessment.
No employees were injured in the incident, and Chief Smith said that the man had appeared to be no threat to anyone but himself. But Karen Jackson, president of the Prince Edward Island Union of Public Sector Employees (UPSE), expressed concern for the safety of UPSE members working for the Department.
“My utmost concern is for the health and safety of our members and ensuring that the employer is providing the necessary safeguards to protect them in situations like this,” Jackson said in a press statement on March 2. “The question now is whether more needs to be done to protect our members and the public.”
Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy said that Department employees had acted “quickly and appropriately” during the incident, by contacting police immediately and allowing them to de-escalate the situation.
“This was a serious and most unfortunate incident, and we are very thankful it ended safely,” said Mundy in an e-mailed response to COHSN. “It is essential that staff are prepared to deal with situations like these.”
Mundy added that the Department encourages distraught clients either to discuss their issues with caseworkers or to seek professional help. “Incidents like these cannot be predicted or prevented, but we can be prepared. Often, it is a variety of issues that lead to escalating situations.”
This was reportedly not the first potentially violent incident at this Department office during the past year. Last June, a woman smashed windows with a hammer, according to media reports.
“It is a reality that similar incidents are occurring more often in public places,” said Mundy. “We continuously look at ways to build on our security and safety planning and will continue to work with law enforcement and provincial security staff to ensure the safety of clients and staff.”
The P.E.I. Department of Family and Human Services is the provincial ministry in charge of child care and protection, housing, seniors’ assistance, adoption services and victim services.