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Toronto Cops, Shaken Up By the Ottawa Shooting, Want to Carry Guns Off the Job

After the tragic deaths of Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, police officers around the country are on edge. Now the climate of fear among law enforcement is ratcheting up as the country comes to grips with its own lack of perfect security.
November 5, 2014, 5:19pm



​Photo ​via Flickr user andrewarchy.

​The tragic deaths of two military servicemen, Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, terrified Canadians from coast-to-coast. These unexpected tragedies also resulted in a firm response from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who vowed to strengthen Canada's laws "in the area of surveillance, ​detention, and arrest."

But for Canada's largest municipal police force, these two extreme crimes also, evidently, scared the cops enough to try and toughen up their security practices. Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Toronto Police Union has been lobbying for a special privilege: allowing their service memb​ers to carry guns off duty.

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Even if you try and induce short-term amnesia on yourself to forget the trigger-happy behaviour that led an 18-year old, Sammy Yatim, to be shot nine times in 2013—a killing that resulted in a second-degree ​murder c​harge for Toronto Police officer James Forcillo—it's obvious that combatting the police's fear of terrorism with more guns is not even a remotely good idea.

Recommendations were laid out after Yatim's death that called for​ police to wear body-worn cameras and carry tasers. Where is that kind of level-headedness now?

Since the Ottawa shooting, and the hit-and-run that left warrant officer Patrice Vincent dead, the Toronto Police have increased their presence at subway stations. CFRB 1010 reported "the TTC and police were reacting to ISIS comments about Canada's decision to launch airstrikes on Islamic State Targets in Iraq," based on comments made by Police Chief Bill Blair.

While the chief did, thankfully, deny the union's request to arm their officers when they head out for FroYo, this request speaks to the climate of fear that can be so quickly generated by brazen, extremist crime. Given what we have seen happen to our allies, where rash new surveillance and terror-prevention laws are quickly passed in the wake of tragic attacks, one would think that there would be some kind of lesson learned now that Canada is coming to terms with our own lack of perfect security.

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In the decade following 9/11, according to the ​Department of Homeland Security, the state of New York alone received over $3 billion in anti-terror funding. New York City, which the department describes as the "most prominent terrorist target in the nation," received heavily armed servicemen standing at subway stations, where travelers' bags are regularly searched at random, and the island of Manhattan was outfitted with more surveillance cameras, licence plate scanners, and "other target hardening equipment;" to make New York, the "target," more "hardened" from the bad guys.

Obviously, 9/11 brought about a "new paradigm​"​ when it comes to terrorism and the law. But when terror is so loosely defined in the first place, and when we have watched Americans accept legislation like the Patriot Act, which has had such unintended consequences as allowing secret surveillance to be conducted in police investigations that have nothing to do with terrorism we need to tread lightly with our police powers, as we come to terms with terror on Canadian soil.

In England, police have been accused of leveraging anti-terror laws to reveal the anonymous sources who provided journalists with information about a scandal involving a politician swearing at two cops. This has led to a ban of cops using anti-terror laws to monitor journalists in the first place. All of this comes shortly after David Cameron has passed new "emergency" surveillance laws to give police and other authorities stronger powers in the event of a terror attack.

In light of these egregious police abuses of laws meant for anti-terror, massive spending, and legislative overhauls that we've seen in the US and UK, it may seem like small potatoes to let Toronto cops carry their pistols when they head out to play laser tag. But, as always, anti-terror regulations create a slippery slope that we don't need to engage simply because of a couple of relatively minor—albeit scary and tragic—extremist crimes.

With the threat of radicalized individuals committing violent acts on Canadian soil becoming more tangible, it's crucial that our law enforcement agencies take a tempered approach to policing these crimes.

So, while it's a good thing to see TPS Chief Bill Blair shut down the Union's request to allow cops to bring their guns with them everywhere they go, it probably won't be the last such request coming from the Union. And one would expect new federal legislation could allow even more intense powers to be granted sometime soon, if Harper's vow to beef up security is to be believed.

@patrickmcguire