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The intersection of Goulburn Avenue and Somerset Street. Photo: Charley Dutil/Fulcrum
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White powder found in Sandy Hill

Originally published on October 18, 2001

An anthrax scare hit Sandy Hill early on Oct.16.

Emergency response teams responded to a morning call from a tenant in a building near the corner of Goulburn Avenue and Somerset Street at 10:30 a.m.

“We had a suspicious white powder in the mailbox,” confirmed Lt. Chris Whitney from Ottawa Fire Services.

The building was evacuated and tenants were told to wait outside as the Hazardous Material Unit searched the premises and removed the potentially harmful substance.

“We’re treating it as a potential biohazard,” said Whitney.

The collected samples were taken from the building and sent to the Health Canada laboratories at Tunney’s Pasture for further analysis. 

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. If the spores enter the body it can be fatal if not treated immediately. It can be contracted through the skin, by inhaling it and eating it.

Sgt. Brad Hampson of the Ottawa-Carleton Police confirmed that the police had already responded to five potential anthrax scares on Oct. 16 alone and has already dealt with 20 in the month of October in the City of Ottawa.

“It is becoming routine, because of people’s nervousness as a result of the terrorist attacks,” he said. 

Hampson did confirm that an investigation is underway.

“We are conducting a criminal investigation. It is obvious that this substance has been left there on purpose,” he said.

Amid the crowd of curious onlookers, attention shifted towards the tenants of the quarantined building. While no Palestinians reside there, a Palestinian flag hangs from one of the windows, which sparked some interest in the apartment. 

“That apartment’s residents don’t agree with American foreign policy,” said resident Liane Vezina, who speculated that could have been the reason that the building was targeted. “They put the flag in a show of support.”

Hampson said that there are currently no suspects.

“If we catch the people they are going to be charged since they are causing fear and panic,” said Hampson.

By 8:30 p.m., Ottawa-Carleton police confirmed that there was nothing to the anthrax scare, meaning that it had been another hoax.

Vezina hoped that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.

“It’s disgusting. I hope they catch somebody and make an example out of them,” she said.

“They were two police cars, four fire trucks, and two smaller fire vehicles here. They stayed for most of the day. It’s costing a lot of money and taking a lot of time.”

Fun facts about this article

-Following the 9/11 attacks anthrax scares were frequent in Ottawa and Washington, the targets were usually politicians.

-Adam Grachnik who was at the time the Fulcrum’s associate news editor eventually became editor-in-chief in 2002-03, he was a journalist for 580 CFRA and the Ottawa Citizen following his time at the Fulcrum. He is currently the director of corporate affairs for Walmart Canada.

-Laura Payton was the Fulcrum’s news editor in 2001-02, she has worked for CBC, the Ottawa Citizen and CTV. She is currently the manager of strategic communications at the Government of Canada’s Communication Establishment — Canada’s national cryptologic agency.

-Chris Whitney is now retired. 

-Brad Hampson retired from the Ottawa Police Service in 2018.