While I was busy filling buckets with candy to hand out at Hats Off Day today in Burnaby, I overheard some of our entourage talking about cops with serious-looking firepower.
The others in our group spotted a police officer carrying a carbine rifle on the roof of a building overlooking Hastings Street.
They seemed surprised to see a Burnaby RCMP officer armed with such a heavy weapon at a fun community event.
Along the parade route, there were other officers carrying the rifles.
This is actually a common sight at many Canadian events these days – and now that level of weapon is being used in Burnaby at what is seen as a joyful community event. (It is true that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to the event in the afternoon, but I don't think the heavily armed cops were just because of that.)
The others in our group felt a little uncomfortable about it. They weren’t necessarily against it, but seeing this up close definitely gave us all pause. It’s part of the new reality in communities that have such large events, but to see it right in front of your has an impact.
I felt sad that my hometown has joined the host of other cities taking these precautions due to global terrorism.
Others aren’t just sad, they are angry about heavily armed cops at community events.
A tweet by @HarshaWalia posted a photo of one of the RCMP at Hastings and Willingdon: “Disgusted at heavily armed @BurnabyRCMPall around #hatsoffdayWhen I asked this cop if he really thought if there was an incident he would start shooting amindst thousands of kids here, his response was "if need be" @DOAJoewe need city $ for housing not cops at community events.”
Disgusted at heavily armed @BurnabyRCMP all around #hatsoffday When I asked this cop if he really thought if there was an incident he would start shooting amindst thousands of kids here, his response was "if need be" @DOAJoe we need city $ for housing not cops at community events pic.twitter.com/Q0GBMUBev4— Harsha Walia (@HarshaWalia) June 1, 2019
In Vancouver, somebody actually filed a formal complaint in 2018 with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner that argued such a public display from the police is “overkill” and “it looks like fascism.”
The complainant noted many immigrants and refugees who have settled in Vancouver have come from countries ravaged by wars. The presence of police with rifles makes people nervous, the complainant said.
“Other minority groups and First Nations people are also triggered emotionally by heavily armed police, depending on their own personal and historic relationships with police and Canada as a country,” the complainant said.
A VPD report cited an increase in “terrorism-inspired vehicle ramming attacks” in North America and Europe in its rationale for deploying officers with rifles and blocking roads with dump trucks.
From 2013 to 2017, terrorists carried out 25 attacks with vehicles in North America and Europe, resulting in 156 deaths and 790 people injured. More than half of the attacks involved the perpetrator exiting the vehicle used in the crime to carry out additional violence with a bladed weapon, gun or explosives.
“The VPD acknowledges the complainant’s concerns that the sight of officers with carbine rifles can be concerning, however, in reviewing best practices and speaking with a subject matter experts, we are satisfied that this strategy is proportional in keeping the department’s public safety mandate,” the report said.
I'm disgusted that this person is disgusted and that might disgust you, Twitter is great https://t.co/Vx8gL1PsZY— Bob Kronbauer (@BobKronbauer) June 1, 2019
Now, is this giving into terrorism by creating what looks more and more like a police state? Or is this just being smart and preparing for a new reality that we can’t ignore?
Usually, I’m able make quicker decisions on such issues, but I’m still struggling with this one. I’m not angry at police for taking terrorism seriously – that judgment seems out of whack with what’s happening – but I’m definitely uncomfortable about it.
I want the Heights to remain the somewhat-quaint neighbourhood I remember from my childhood. Perhaps that is too naïve of me.
Follow Chris Campbell on Twitter @shinebox44.
-With files from Mike Howell, Vancouver Courier