Virgilwood Recognition

I’ve been delinquent in my blogging, with so many major issues on the table right now at City hall.  I’ll eventually get to putting out some thoughts on the casino question, finances, the university campus, and so on.  In the interim, I wanted to post my speaking notes from the recognition of responders to the Virgilwood Crisis – it was important that we recognize their heroism and dedication, which we did during a ceremony at Council on Monday night.

 

Members of Council and Members of the Public :

On July 11th, 2012, a confession led to a major break in a cold case murder file in Barrie.  During interviews, the accused told police about the various firearms, explosives and booby traps at their residence. A search warrant was obtained and an extensive search of the home began. At the home at 30 Virgilwood Crescent, police discovered numerous explosives and chemicals throughout the property that put the community at risk.

Over the course of the next eight days, the discovery led to an unprecedented police operation.  Due to safety concerns, 22 area homes were evacuated for roughly one week.  Explosive Disposal Experts from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Barrie Police Service and the Center of Forensic Sciences dismantled and disposed of various explosives and chemical hazards and seized numerous weapons.  Found within the home and its exterior perimeter were 26 illegally possessed firearms of varied types, in excess of 11,000 rounds of ammunition, and 83 improvised explosives devices and various chemicals.

Needless to say, a single explosive device is a cause for great concern and requires tremendous skills, training, and ability to render safe.   Despite the complexity of the investigation, the number of devices, and the conditions of extreme heat, the Barrie Police, OPP, RCMP, and experts from the Centre for Forensic Sciences undertook an unprecedented police operation that rendered safe all of the explosives and made the neighbourhood safe again for residents, without a single injury.  We are here tonight to celebrate and thank these officers for their professionalism and bravery.  They are in my eyes true heroes, who did an incredibly difficult job in incredibly difficult conditions to ensure our safety.

We are also here to thank tonight the volunteers of the Red Cross who assisted the evacuated residents during their time out of their homes.  The Canadian Red Cross stepped in as part of our Memorandum of Understanding but I can tell you that as an organization and as individuals, these folks went above and beyond the call of duty to support our residents.

I also want to recognize the Barrie Fire Department and the Simcoe County Paramedic Service who provided standby service on Virgilwood during the investigation and assisted on scene.

Last but not least, I want to recognize the residents of Virgilwood Crescent.  Their patience amid a very trying time was admirable.  The unfortunate impact of the situation was that many people had to be out of their homes during a time when some were dealing with everything from illnesses in the family, to missed family holidays, and other personal impacts.  To all those who maintained their patience and positive attitude throughout, I want to express my appreciation not only on behalf of City Council but also on behalf of the services.  Their job was made easier by your support.

In conclusion – this incident was unprecedented, not just in the history of the City of Barrie but in the country.  We are a safe city, with one of the lowest crime rates in the nation.  But when a serious situation occurs, we all depend on the abilities of our protective services to keep us safe.  Not only were those services up for the challenge during that hot week in July, they performed spectacularly.  

During the crisis I was on a number of occasions interviewed by both local and national media.  One of the toughest questions came from a national news network who asked me what this incident said about Barrie – and was it a black eye for the city.  I said it wasn’t the way we would like to get into the national media, but I truly believe that the mark of a community is in how it responds to incidents like this, not the actions of a single madman.  Our community’s response, from the residents, to those who helped them and helped the police, to most of all, the Red Cross, RCMP, OPP and Barrie Police, was something to be proud of.

Please join me one final time in thanking all of those involved, on behalf of a grateful community.

About jefflehman
Jeff Lehman is the 46th Mayor of the City of Barrie. The Ward 2 Councillor for the City of Barrie from 2006 to 2010, he was the Chairman of the Finance Committee of Council, chaired the City’s Growth Management Working Group, and created the Historic Neighbourhoods project, a new initiative to protect and revitalize Barrie’s oldest neighbourhoods. Jeff has lived in Barrie for most of his life, having grown up in Allandale and attended Barrie Central Collegiate. Jeff holds a B.A. from Queen’s University, and a Master’s Degree with first class honours from the UK’s prestigious London School of Economics. He was hired to teach at the LSE following his graduation, and lived and worked in London for two years as an academic. Since that time, as an economist, he has worked with cities across Canada to manage redevelopment and invest in their urban infrastructure. In 2005, he established the Growing By Degrees Task Force to assist in expanding university education opportunities in Barrie, and has volunteered his time with many organizations in the City. Jeff lives near Downtown Barrie with his wife, Jennifer, a part-time professor of political science, and their young daughter Cassie, who is already smarter than her father.

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