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last fall, so too the presence of these weapons should be explained and, unless absolutely necessary, they should be withdrawn.”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).”
The Vancouver Police Department has purchased an LRAD, or a Long Range Acoustic Device, for use during the 2010 Olympics. The LRAD is a non-lethal weapon that emits painfully loud sound in a focused beam. The device came under scrutiny after it was used on protesters at the recent G20 meetings in Pittsburgh.
Despite its capabilities as a crowd control weapon, the VPD claims the new device will only be used to make announcements to the public:
Const. Lindsay Houghton said the device was first tested this summer as a public address system during the Celebration of Light fireworks events in Vancouver.
Houghton said police don’t plan to use the device for anything more than communication.
“The primary function we’re using the device for is its ability to communicate with very large groups with respect to crowd control, evacuations, tactical situations where we may need the loudspeaker portion of it,” he said.
The BCCLA’s President, Rob Holmes, had concerns about the acquisition. “This crowd control weapon was obtained without any public discussion and without any defined policy for its safe and proper use.” Safety will be a major concern should the LRAD be deployed as a weapon. At its maximum volume, the LRAD can cause permanent hearing damage if individuals remain in its focus for an extended period. It emits sounds of up to 151 dB, well past the threshold of pain (120 dB) and just below a level that can cause instantaneous hearing loss (160dB).
If the VPD simply wanted a loudspeaker, there is military-grade hardware available for a fraction of the cost. As Bob Mackin suggested on Twitter, you may want to invest in some earplugs if you’ll be in Vancouver come February.