Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard says that those responsible for bomb threats at dozens of schools in the province will be prosecuted.
On Tuesday morning, 71 schools in the province and in the Ottawa region were evacuated, closed or searched after receiving a threatening email from an anonymous mailer. (The number of schools targeted has been updated by police.)
"Frankly, the people responsible for this tactic, whatever the nature of it is — and of course, we will allow the investigation to take its course — they have to know that they will be prosecuted, and that the investigation will be rigorous, if we are successful in identifying them," Couillard told reporters Tuesday at the National Assembly. "It's unacceptable. It's condemnable… Words escape me. It's criminal."
Provincial police sent out a statement late Tuesday afternoon confirming that searches were completed. No bomb was found.
The Montreal police were in charge of searching seven schools on its territory. Nothing was found in any of those searches either.
"Notwithstanding the fact that these threats seem to be unfounded, they are taken very seriously by police and will be the subject of an investigation which will be co-ordinated by the Sûreté du Québec," read the police statement.
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Of the province's 48 CEGEPs (pre-university colleges), 20 received threats and five were evacuated, according to the Federation of CEGEPs. The schools that were evacuated are the CEGEPs in Drummondville, Lanaudière (Assomption campus), Sept-Îles, Saint-Hyacinthe and Heritage.
Dawson College and John Abbott College were both searched by Montreal police as a precautionary measure.
Schools across the province and in the greater Montreal region were searched and in some cases, evacuated, as well.
The Sûreté du Québec says it will launch an online investigation to find out who sent the threatening note and is asking anyone with information about the case to call 1-800-659-4264.
Ties to threats in Ottawa?
The group claiming responsibility for the threatening notes calls itself "Red Scepter." CBC has learned that it is the same group that sent threatening emails to Ottawa schools last week.
Last Thursday, at least five schools in the Ottawa-Gatineau area received threatening emails. There were further threats to a few schools on Friday morning. Police investigated and said all the threats were hoaxes.
Investigations in Quebec underway
Montreal police searched some local schools and CEGEPs, but no evacuations took place.
Both Montreal police and Quebec provincial police have launched investigations into the threats. Montreal police will meet with principals of schools that have been targeted or searched.
Interim Quebec Security Minister Pierre Moreau said the note cited anger at teachers' unions and quality of education as the main motivations for the threats.
"The nature of the email is a threat that bombs would be placed in schools, CEGEPS and some school buses as well because they are opposed to the way the teachers in Quebec and Ontario are dealing with the students," said Moreau.
"In each and every case, the SQ has come to help the manager of the buildings concerned to make a full search," Moreau added.
Meets 'definition of terrorist act': Moreau
Even though police have turned up nothing, Moreau said the threats would be investigated as a terrorist act.
"Because of the large population that is concerned by the threat, even though there would be nothing found in the search," Moreau said, "I think it would respond to the definition of a terrorist act, according to law."
Quebec provincial police have not said whether the threat is credible.
"Since this morning several schools in the province of Quebec received bomb threats, so the Sûreté du Québec takes these events very seriously," said provincial police Sgt. Mélanie Dumaresq.
"We took all possible actions to protect the population and make sure the students and teachers are safe."
Rodrigue Vigneault, president of Commission scolaire du Fer school board in Sept-Îles where 15 schools were affected, told CBC that all students were moved to a safe place.
"We received an email this morning. Only one school was named in that email but we don't take any chances and all the schools are closed," Vigneault said.
Montreal schools searched
Montreal police Const. Jean-Pierre Brabant said officers visited schools in Rivière-des-Prairies, Beaconsfield, Dorval and the Montreal borough of St-Laurent after the schools reported receiving threats.
Lester B. Pearson School Board chairwoman Suanne Stein Day did confirm that the board received a bomb threat note.
The English Montreal School Board was not affected.
The two largest French-language school boards on the Island of Montreal confirmed that schools were not evacuated.
The Commission scolaire Marguerite Bourgeoys said it is collaborating with Montreal police after receiving a note. It would not confirm whether police searched any of its schools, but said schools were not evacuated.
The Commission scolaire de Montréal has put an update on its website stating it has not received a threatening note, and it is following the situation closely.