Heavily armed police presence at Vancouver's Italian Day triggers public debate

VPD officers carried machine guns to patrol Italian Day on the Drive while streets were blockaded by trucks

An increase in security measures at a cultural public festival this weekend has some Vancouverites feeling less safe than usual.

This Sunday marked the ninth annual Italian Day on the Drive, a festival that shuts down traffic on 14 blocks of Commercial Drive to celebrate Italian culture. But it was the first year large trucks were used as blockades and that police officers were armed with machine guns rather than pistols.

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Many festival-goers shared pictures of the armed VPD officers on social media in disbelief that these measures were necessary.

Others commended the city for recognizing how recent attacks at public events around the globe called for heightened security.

In recent years, there has been an increase in incidents involving vehicles attacking bystanders in public spaces, including Edmonton and Toronto.

At Vancouver's Italian Days festivities, an estimated 200,000 people come out to enjoy the music performances, vendors, food trucks and beer gardens.

But one Burnaby resident was quick to point out on Twitter that Hats Off Day — a festival held one week prior — remained safe without additional security measures being implemented.

Sgt. Jason Robillard, media spokesperson from the VPD, says it’s common for him to receive a high volume of questions surrounding police presence after public festivals.

"We typically do not share detail about our operations plans or tactics, including the number of officers deployed or type of equipment used, as that would be counterproductive and potentially unsafe for the public and our officers," Robillard wrote in a follow up email. 

"Specifically, over the past two years, we have added extra resources, including equipping some officers with carbine rifles and using heavy vehicle barriers at events with large crowds, in response to world events."

The VPD's emergency operational planning section is responsible for preparing for more than 1,000 events in Vancouver annually.

 

bclarkson@vancourier.com

@bexinVcity

 

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