Haz-mat team finds suspicious powder was flour

Ottawa's hazardous materials response team has determined that suspicious white powder found near the Bank of Canada Monday was something pretty innocuous — flour.

Ottawa's hazardous materials response team has determined that suspicious white powder found near the Bank of Canada Monday was something pretty innocuous.

It turned out to be flour, and members of the group responsible for laying a powdery white trail through the downtown had no idea they were causing such a commotion.

Late Monday afternoon, police cordoned off a downtown intersection after a passerby noticed several piles of white powder, and called 911.

The fire department's haz-mat team was suited up to collect a sample, only to discover that the substance was flour.

It turns out the trail of flour was left by a group called the Hash House Harriers. There are similar groups all over the world who get together each week for decidedly non-competitive runs. 

One member marks a trail and the others then try to follow the markings. The trail eventually leads them to a bar or to a house, where beer is served.

But neither police nor firefighters had been informed about the run, or about the flour. 

"Our biggest concern is that we're tying up emergency vehicles," said fire service spokesman Marc Messier.

He said the group should find another way to mark its trails.

"We're certainly living in different times and since 9/11, mentality has changed, and we go more on the side of caution. We definitely have some real threats out there, and we have to react every time that there is a possible threat," Messier said.

One member of the Harriers, Bill Neelin, said people need to be a little more relaxed.   "When you think about it, I don't think a terrorist group would be leaving great big globs of a white substance in the middle of the sidewalk," he said.

The Hash House Harriers have a long-standing tradition of using flour, and he said they don't intend to stop now.

But members say in the future they will let police know about their intended route so there will be no more scares like the one on Monday.