Barricades, heavily armed police ‘new normal’ for street festivals
Criminologist says police’s public-safety mandate tends to clash with public perception of freedoms
The heavy vehicles and rifletoting police officers stationed at either end of Sunday’s Italian Day festival on Commercial Dr. are the “new normal” for large events, according to law-enforcement and criminology experts.
Joel Johnston, former useof-force co-ordinator for the Vancouver Police Department and a member of the Crowd Control Unit, said the presence of police and mobile barricades is a necessary response to modern threats.
“We have seen deadly vehicle attacks across the globe,” Johnston said. “Anywhere there are gatherings of large crowds … needs to be secured as best as it can be. It is a foreseeable risk that can be mitigated.”
Vancouver Police Sgt. Jason Robillard told Starmetro the VPD “is responsible for preparing for more than 1,000 events in the City of Vancouver annually,” each of which requires an individual threat assessment and complementary response.
Over the past two years, Robillard said, the VPD has 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.”
Robillard told reporters these barriers are now a standard part of VPD planning and operations during large events like Canada Day and the Festival of Lights.
The Italian Day on the Drive festival brings hundreds of thousands of participants to a single, 1.4-kilometre stretch of road. Johnston said police
departments are obligated to take preventative action to secure such events, since failing to do so would be a failure to observe basic standards of care for public safety.
Canadians should not imagine terrorist attacks to be beyond the realm of possibility, said Bryan Kinney, associate director of undergraduate programs at the Simon Fraser
University School of Criminology.
But he recognized the police’s public-safety mandate would inevitably clash with the perception of basic freedoms held by many civilians.
“There’s a tension between safety and the appearance of a police state,” he said.
Left: An officer stands guard at the heavy vehicle barrier at the Italian Day on the Drive festival on Sunday. Right: Sniper rifle, aerosol spray, baton, Taser, body armour and pistol are all part of the equipment provided to this officer at the same...