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Canadian police forces bulking up with armoured vehicles


Canadian police forces bulking up with armoured vehicles

Growing numbers of Canadian police agencies in recent years have added armoured vehicles to their crime-fighting arsenals — beasts on wheels that go by such names as Thunder 1, BearCat and Grizzly.

Several are retired military combat vehicles that have been modified and donated by the Canadian Forces. Other police agencies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase custom-built armoured trucks from private specialty builders.

Scenes of heavily armed and armoured police clashing with protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting of an unarmed black man, have sparked discussions on both sides of the border about the “creeping militarization” of police and accusations that they are wasting money on “toys for boys.”

But police officials from Vancouver to New Glasgow, N.S., this week defended their acquisitions. Even if these heavy-duty vehicles are sitting in a garage most days of the week — some have not been deployed even once — they are necessary for dealing with hostile and potentially life-threatening situations such as hostage-takings, incidents involving barricaded gunmen or active shooters and the execution of high-risk search warrants, officials said.

RCMP policy states that armoured vehicles are to be used by emergency response team members only during “critical incidents” and “should not be deployed or used for crowd control.”

“It doesn’t seem to me like a big step toward militarization of this organization. It’s just providing the basic tool that members need to do their job and protect the public,” Byron Boucher, an RCMP assistant commissioner, said.

He said five RCMP tactical armoured vehicles from as far as Ottawa were deployed to Moncton, N.B., in June during the hunt for a suspect in the fatal shooting of three Mounties from the Codiac detachment.

“We’ve had 41 officers killed since 1961 and 83 per cent of them have been killed by rifle or shotgun … The fact is we still face these kinds of threats — we just faced it in Codiac — and it isn’t going to go away,” Boucher said.

Michael Spratt, an Ottawa criminal lawyer, said the money spent on purchasing and maintaining these vehicles would be better used for crime prevention.

“These sorts of toys do put the public in danger. They do escalate conflicts. They do create sort of an image problem for the police where they aren’t our protectors but they are our oppressors,” he said. “I’d rather have a mental health crisis worker or a social worker on the street every day than a BearCat in the garage.”
The Department of National Defence confirmed Thursday it has donated five six-wheeled armoured vehicles to police agencies since 2007 — a Grizzly armoured personnel carrier to Edmonton police in 2007; two Cougar armoured vehicles to the B.C. RCMP in 2010; and one Cougar each to the New Glasgow and Windsor, Ont., police in 2013.

“These vehicles are de-armed and undergo a demilitarization process prior to donation,” spokesman Daniel Blouin said in an email.

Police officials in New Glasgow and Windsor said their vehicles have not been deployed in a real-world situation, but tactical officers continue to train with them.