Cops with rifles, dump trucks blocking roads—is Vancouver under siege?

Lawyer Adrienne Smith worried VPD measures creating ‘culture of fear’ at public events

12th and Cambie

Hey Vancouver, are you prepared for an active deadly threat?

It’s a serious question the Vancouver Police Department posed back in May when it launched a campaign and accompanying video on how to defend yourself if, say, someone walked into an office or a school and started shooting people.

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What a terrible thought.

But the police are in the prevention and protection business. So while the campaign is understandable, it is equally disconcerting when connected to the social media storm that erupted last Sunday during Italian Day on Commercial Drive.

By now, many of you probably heard or saw that cops were armed with carbine rifles and city dump trucks were parked across the strip to prevent a maniac from mowing down the crowd of people gathered to celebrate.

The guns and trucks are not new.

They were visible last year at the annual fireworks event at English Bay and at Canada Day celebrations at Canada Place. The guns and trucks have been regular sights at Remembrance Day events, too.

This is not unique to Vancouver, as I witnessed last year at a Tri-Cities Remembrance Day ceremony, where a City of Coquitlam snowplow blocked the main road leading to the cenotaph. RCMP officers, some dressed in green military combat gear, carried rifles.

This, unfortunately, is the new world order.

In this country, you can trace the origins of the public displays of force to the shooting of soldier Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in 2014 at the National War Memorial in Ottawa and the death of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in Quebec, who was murdered in a hit-and-run by an Islamic extremist.

Those tragedies along with more recent mass killings in France, London, New York and Toronto make a logical case for the VPD’s current measures, despite what they might do to a person’s anxiety.

But should we be worried? Is there something the VPD is not telling us? Are we becoming a police state?

Lawyer Adrienne Smith--who tweeted out the photo accompanying this column and triggered a social media debate on the police measures--is worried the VPD is creating a culture of fear around public events.

Smith, a member of the VPD’s LGBTQ advisory committee, said in an email that she heard from many people after Italian Day, “particularly people of colour, who were uncomfortable with this level of display of armed uniform officers at what has always been a community and family event.”

To those who say the police’s presence was warranted, Smith said:

“I’m not saying that some of the recent vehicle ramming and public shooting events that occurred in cities around the world are not deplorable. I’m suggesting that a better way towards public security is a renewed commitment to principles like peace, order and good government, rather than increases in offensive tactical equipment and artillery.”

That said, I can recall former VPD chief Jamie Graham telling a reporter that if the general public knew what he did, they wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. He didn’t elaborate, leading to wild speculation about whether Vancouver is a target.

Our history in Vancouver and other parts of the province show we have not been immune to determined people committing unthinkable atrocities. The Air India bombing is the best and worst example of that.

There’s also the famous case of Al Qaeda member Ahmed Ressam preparing explosives in the 2400 Court Motel on Kingsway before heading south in an attempt to detonate a bomb at the Los Angeles airport.

Anyone old enough to remember the Squamish Five bombings?

I caught up with Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer Thursday after a police board meeting to hear from him on the new world order. He did his best to allay fears residents may have about the guns, or the what-to-do-in-a-deadly-threat campaign, or the need for dump trucks at large public events.

Palmer was clear there is no specific threat to Vancouver. But he further explained that tragic world events—motorists driving into large crowds, the killing of Canadian soldiers at home--have shaped the department’s safety and security measures.

“We’re going to be out there keeping families safe, keeping people safe, but we have precautions in place—sometimes behind the scene, sometimes more overt—that will be necessarily in place if something goes sideways,” Palmer said. “I don’t want it to be a situation where something goes wrong and then everybody turns around and says, ‘Well VPD knew about all these world events and why weren’t they out there, and why weren’t they prepared?’ So we are prepared.”

So damned if you bring in the big guns and trucks, damned if you don’t?

“You can kind of look at it that way.”






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