The Vancouver Police Department is defending the deployment of officers with assault rifles during major public events.
It’s a deterrent against possible terrorist attacks, according to a VPD report.
“Evidence demonstrates that the presence of long rifles, with or without vehicle barriers, can serve to deter a terrorist attack,” Ken Athans, acting Inspector with the Emergency and Operational Planning Section, wrote in the report included in the board’s agenda Thursday (December 6).
“When a terrorist attack does occur,” Athans continued, “a trained police member armed with a long rifle improves his or her ability to stop the continued path of a vehicle borne attack and can react swiftly to stop an assailant who exits a suspect vehicle to continue the attack by other means.”
Athans report recommended the dismissal of a complaint regarding the presence of heavily-armed police officers at the Italian Day celebration on Commercial Drive in June this year.
According to Athans, the deployment of emergency response officers armed with C8 rifles is one of twin responses to terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world, wherein vehicles were used to ram people.
The other measure is the use of dump trucks and other heavy vehicles as barriers.
The C8 rifle is capable of single shots and automatic fire. It’s the Canadian version of the M4, the standard weapon of the U.S. military.
“The single biggest advancement in police capability to respond to active deadly threats in Canada has been the introduction of the patrol carbine,” Athans wrote in the report. “When equipped with the modern electronic sight, the carbine is both incredibly fast and extremely accurate at distances much farther than handguns, and could achieve a disabling shot, including in crowd situations.”
According to Athans, the VPD has deployed officers with C8 carbines at large public events like the Celebration of Light since 2016.
“The VPD recognizes that although the deployment of officers with the C8 carbines has huge public safety benefits, it can also affect members of the public in different ways – some people are reassured by the presence of long guns, while others are more uncomfortable with seeing them at public or sporting venues,” Athans wrote.
The provincial Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner received a complaint regarding the carrying of assault rifles during the Italian Day celebration.
“In my opinion, assault rifles in public crowds are unsafe,” the complainant wrote. “I feel this level of weapons is overkill. What are the police going to do open fire and spray a hailstorm of bullets into a crowd?”
The name of the complainant was redacted in the copy provided to the police board.
“The presence of overarmed police is both intimidating and triggering to a lot of the general public,” according to the complaint. “It doesn't make people feel safer or protected, it looks like fascism you would expect in third world dictatorships.”
In the VPD report, Athans noted that there are over 200 public events in Vancouver annually.
“Only 5 percent are assessed to require additional public safety measures like long gun over-watch and vehicle barriers,” according to Athans.
Athans also related that terrorists carried out 25 vehicle-ramming attacks in North America and Europe between 2013 and 2017.
According to Athans, the attacks resulted in 156 fatalities and 790 injuries.
“More than half of the attacks involved the perpetrator exiting the vehicle and carrying out additional attacks using a bladed weapon, firearm and/ or explosives,” Athans wrote.