BCCLA to VPD: Leave the big guns at home for demos
The BCCLA has asked the Vancouver Police Department to stop bringing semi-automatic military weaponry to demonstrations in Vancouver, even where demonstrations present public order issues.
“Even in a scenario like Saturday where a group of protesters engage in illegal property damage, as well as reprehensible violence against police and citizens, the Police were able to restore order without pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, Tasers or handguns,” said Robert Holmes, President of the BCCLA. “Do they really need military grade semi-automatic rifles?”
The BCCLA has monitored police action over a number of major public order events over many years, including the Guns and Roses riot, the so-called “Riot at the Hyatt”, and the Stanley Cup riot. Saturday is the first instance the BCCLA is aware of where military guns have been deployed for civilian crowd control purposes in Vancouver.
“High powered rifles in a stressful situation add to the risk of law enforcement and security measures going seriously wrong,” said Holmes. “The public has not been told of any security threat that would justify the presence of such weaponry. Just as the sonic gun raised controversy last fall, so too the presence of these weapons should be explained and, unless absolutely necessary, they should be withdrawn.”
Vancouver Police Department public order officer Vince Forsberg confirmed that the weapons were deployed to back up Crowd Control Unit police officers who do not carry firearms, and said that he understood them to be “intermediate weapons” designed “to allow an accurate shot at an intermediate range (usually under 100 meters).”
NB: For the BCCLA’s response to the issue of Saturday’s protests, see the Open Letter to Legal Observers
I was just on the CBC website trying to get news about the protest downtown this morning (Saturday Feb 13). I am so eager for updated information that I even turned my kitchen radio on! On the website there were over twenty screens of comments and I could tell that more were added even as I was reading. What struck me was that everyone was still only able to express an opinion based, at this point, on preliminary information.
There were many comments on the CBC site suggesting that those who broke the law should be subject to our legal process. I hope that there were Legal Observers there this morning. This is the sort of moment for which we volunteered, and for which we had been trained. As I understand it, our role as recorders is the provision of credible facts. I visualize that these will help both our justice system and “the court of public opinion” in determining what happened, and that subsequent judgements will be based on facts. But it seems to me that our witnessing will only useful if the legal system and the public have confidence that our words and images are an accurate record.
In our training they stressed that we are there to serve as witnesses for both protesters and security. At this moment it is even more clear to me why they stressed our role as neutral parties. In addition to having our documentation show our impartiality, our credibility is also based on being seen as being neutral. And for that to happen, I see how much we need to send that message through behaviour.