There wasn’t much information available, but he could see dozens of emergency vehicles and police tape blocking off the area around the bank, which also happens to be where his girlfriend, Emileigh Pearson, lives. He tried to text her, but, he says, “As soon as we got close to the intersection, I stopped being able to message people.” People turned to one another, puzzled, saying they’d lost their connections. “And because we were kind of [in] an active shooter-type scenario,” he says, “everyone’s constantly trying to talk, and so it was pretty obvious that as soon as you entered the intersection, phones cut out.”
Since Telus tower has been offline for several weeks, one resident’s 9-1-1 calls reporting a possible heart attack have been ignored. The Saanich shooting occurred in a zone without cell service. At the shooting scene, a police officer makes a call. Cell service was reportedly nonexistent close to the shooting scene, according to witnesses. Grant Hames was using his phone while on the bus as it made its way through the backed-up traffic between Cedar Hill X Road and Shelbourne Street last Tuesday afternoon, immediately following the bank robbery in Saanich.
The connection only came back when the bus reached Richmond Road, past the area near the robbery. Support Your Community, Support Local Journalism. With paid membership, every penny goes directly to helping our newsroom continue its work and helps our team grow and expand our coverage For 10 minutes following Hames’s arrival in the area, with police everywhere and a shelter-in-place order keeping Pearson inside, she says it was “radio silence” from Hanes.
Freelance photographer James MacDonald, on assignment for Capital Daily to cover the incident, was among those who lost service as soon as he entered the area. Photos he tried to send from the scene wouldn’t send, and even texts and calls failed. Capital Daily’s newsletter editor, Martin Bauman, managed to get on the phone with MacDonald, trying to understand his broken-up report from the ground to publish the latest information.
Hames’s Public Mobile cell phone depends on Telus towers. Her phone, on a different network, was working fine—but her roommates’ Koodo phones were having connection problems. Service in the area has been unreliable since the start of May, when Telus removed a tower that had been attached to a building that was being demolished and didn’t put up a replacement. That tower was the only source of reliable cell coverage for Telus, Koodo, and Public Mobile customers in the area—an area that now includes last week’s bank robbery.
“He says the rumour is that police are scrambling cell phone calls in the area, because everyone’s got piss-poor reception,” Bauman wrote to the rest of the team. That rumour has continued to circulate among neighbours—but there is no evidence for it, and police have given no indication that they were using any kind of scrambling equipment. The robbery was squarely in the middle of what is likely the worst area for cell reception in the city.