RCMP investigating after Fort McMurray school Remembrance Day ceremony interrupted by porn

RCMP are investigating after an individual interrupted a virtual Remembrance Day ceremony in a Fort McMurray elementary school and children were shown pornographic images.

Tech expert says digital meeting hosts should prepare for worst-case scenarios 

Children at Walter and Gladys Hill Public School were exposed to pornographic images during a Remembrance Day ceremony. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

RCMP are investigating after a virtual Remembrance Day ceremony in a Fort McMurray elementary school was hijacked and children were shown pornographic images. 

On Tuesday, staff at Walter and Gladys Hill Public School prepared a virtual Remembrance Day ceremony over Google Meet. It was slated to start at 11 a.m., according to Fort McMurray Public Schools superintendent Jennifer Turner. 

But minutes before the ceremony started, someone hijacked the presentation and showed pornographic images. 

"We are deeply apologetic to the community," said Turner. She said staff tried to shut down the meeting, but weren't able to. Instead staff sent out an announcement telling people to leave the meeting. 

"That resulted in a variable amount of time that students may have had … exposure to that adult content." 

After the incident, the school's principal contacted the 100 people who were on the video at the time.

"He did an assessment of what occurred in each of the school's classrooms," said Turner. "The school has touched base with each of the parents and the school teachers of those children."

There are mental health supports for students through the school, including a counselling team and a mental health therapy lead. 

Turner said the school board is working with the RCMP to find out who was responsible for the incident. Turner did not see the video, but said from what she understands the adult content was "pornographic." 

Now the school is working with its technology co-ordinators to prevent a similar situation from happening in the future. 

"We are committed to understanding all of the technical aspects that allowed this to occur." 

Turner emphasized that the Remembrance Day ceremony was meant to offer respect to veterans and pull the community together.

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine confirmed RCMP are investigating the incident. So far no one has been charged.

Prepare for worst-case scenario 

Dana DiTomaso, president of Kick Point, an Edmonton digital marketing agency, said it's not uncommon for online gatherings to be hijacked and administrators should be prepared for that possibility when hosting ceremonies. 

"If you're going to use these tools, you really need to train people in advance how to deal with abuse," said DiTomaso. 

On Google Meet, it's difficult to vet who is coming into the meeting but it's simple enough to remove disrupters — if you know how, she said.

If you click on a participant's name and navigate to the drop-down menu, there is an option to remove participants, she said. 

"If you're unfamiliar with using the functions of Meet, then you probably wouldn't be able to find that." 

She also suggested using platforms with more controls, like Zoom or Twitch, for large-scale events where participants aren't contributing. 

"Assume that people are going to be horrible on the Internet, given the chance," said DiTomaso. "If you're going to host a big event like this, do a test in advance." 

She said if people practise muting participants, kicking them out or turning off their video, the meeting host will know what to do in the event of an incident such as the one at Walter and Gladys Hill Elementary. 

"In a situation where you're panicked because all of a sudden there's porn on the screen, you remember what to do at least," said DiTomaso.