'There was a panic': Fake rumour causes evacuation in northern Quebec community

A Cree community in northern Quebec was sent into a panic on Saturday evening after someone spread a false rumour that a dam near the community broke and people were in danger.

Chisasibi chief says residents duped into believing nearby dam broke

Davey Bobbish, chief of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, says people in the community were panicking after hearing a false rumour that a nearby dam broke and residents were in danger. He says he started receiving phone calls around 9 p.m. from residents worried about what was going on. (Jaime Little/CBC)

A Cree community in northern Quebec was sent into a panic Saturday evening after someone spread a false rumour that a dam near the community broke and people were in danger.

Davey Bobbish, chief of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi, on the eastern shore of James Bay, Que., said he was out of town around 9 p.m. when he got a flurry of calls from distressed community members who believed there was an evacuation order in place.

"Right away I started making calls … to Hydro-Québec, trying to find out what's going on," said Bobbish. "I called my emergency response team, our public safety officer. They weren't aware of anything. Even our local police. I don't know where it started from."

Residents of Chisasibi had evacuated to higher ground and were lining up at the gas station, said Bobbish. Some were driving around the community in a rush to find their children.

"There was a panic," he said. "Because of social media, rumours were spreading fast."

It took the chief about 45 minutes to confirm with Hydro-Québec that there was no emergency, and no dam had broken. Once he did, he went over to the local radio station to calm the community down and inform them it had been a hoax.

'This has always been a concern'

"It was really bad, really bad. Because this has always been a concern in our community, ever since the construction of the hydroelectric project," said Bobbish. "So of course people have concerns about safety."

However, Bobbish said Hydro-Québec has always reassured the community the dams are monitored and safe.

Bobbish wants to remind residents that if there is a real emergency, he or local emergency authorities will be the ones to advise the public.

"We need to do something about this incident," he said. "Also, as a community, we have to start looking at how we handle information about incidents like that."

Bobbish said he has asked the local police to investigate the false rumour and determine how it started.