Man found guilty of mischief for calling in fake bomb threat at Yukon Arts Centre

·3 min read
The Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Mike Thomas - image credit)
The Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Mike Thomas - image credit)

A Whitehorse man has been found guilty of public mischief after calling in a fake bomb threat at the Yukon Arts Centre last summer — an incident that triggered a heavy police and fire department response and the evacuation of the building in the middle of a performance.

Owen Williams, an artist engaged in a long-standing dispute with the Yukon Arts Centre over its unauthorised display of his work, was facing two charges related to the incident on Aug. 27, 2020.

Territorial court Judge Peter Chisholm convicted him of public mischief following a short trial on April 16, but acquitted him on one count of falsely reporting a fire.

Performance cut short

During the trial, Crown attorney Sarah Bailey played recordings of four 911 calls that Williams made that day, the first one being placed around 7 p.m.

On the recording, Williams can be heard telling the dispatcher that there "may be a bomb at the Yukon Arts Centre." In subsequent calls, he also claims that there's "something weird happening" at the centre, that there's "maybe a fire," and that there are "definitely flames in the office."

The initial report of a bomb triggered a heavy response from both the Whitehorse Fire Department and Whitehorse RCMP.

The Yukon Arts Centre was hosting a performance featuring comedian Jenny Hamilton and musician Paris Pick at the time, with about 50 people in attendance. Hamilton's set was interrupted so the building could be evacuated.

Authorities did not find any explosives or fire on-site.

Police arrested Williams later that night.

Williams, who didn't have a lawyer, told the court during the trial that he had felt "odd and anxious" that day and had been dealing with mental health issues, but remembered little about what happened.

He also acknowledged that he had been drinking alcohol that night.

Ordered to stay away from centre

In his decision, Chisholm said it was clear Williams would have been able to understand the consequences of his actions while making the initial call about the bomb — that it would trigger authorities to respond and tie up resources — and found him guilty of public mischief.

However, in acquitting him on the charge of falsely reporting a fire, Chisholm said Williams' capacity to form intent was in doubt at that point given the state of his intoxication.

Chisholm sentenced Williams to 12 months' probation, with terms including staying 200 metres away from the Yukon Arts Centre, refraining from consuming alcohol and non-prescription drugs, only calling 911 for emergencies and attending counselling.

He also ordered Williams to pay $100 in restitution to the City of Whitehorse to help cover the cost of the fire department's response.

Williams told the judge that he understood the seriousness of his actions and was seeking help.

"Mr. Williams, I really, really hope that things start to come together," Chisholm told him.

This is Williams' second conviction in as many months on charges related to making 911 calls about the Yukon Arts Centre. He was found guilty in February for falsely claiming there was a fire at the centre last May and was also sentenced to probation.