Front-line Toronto Cops to get Military-Grade Assault Rifles

'Fucking ridiculous' is how one defence lawyer described the decision.

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Jan 20 2016, 10:23pm

Don't you feel safer already? Photo via TPS

At a time when violence perpetrated by cops is facing intense scrutiny, Toronto Police Service is arming its front-line officers with military-grade assault rifles.

The cops have purchased 50 C8 carbine assault rifles—the same guns used by the Canadian Armed Forces—for officers working in the Greater Toronto Area's 17 divisions, according to a CBC report that was confirmed by police spokesman Mark Pugash.

"We're always looking at technology to see if it offers us additional safety, additional accuracy, something that can help us protect the public," Pugash told the CBC.

The semi-automatic rifles, which can fire bullets at a speed of 895 metres per second, are known for being user-friendly and accurate; they're currently used by the TPS' Emergency Task Force, a tactical unit that responds to extreme scenarios such as those that involve hostages and bombs.

But questions are being raised as to why the police need more of them.

Ottawa-based criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt told VICE the cops' push to "militarize" is "fucking ridiculous."

"These aren't weapons that should be use on civilians," he said. "By arming them, bulletproofing them, and making them seem like a military invasion strike force, that [creates] a public perception problem."

The rifles cost around $2,000-$3,000 each, money that would be better spent on mental health, housing, and outreach services, which are proven effective in reducing crime, he added.

Spratt pointed to the irony of increasing the number of weapons on the street when crime is at an all-time low.

"We've never been safer and yet we spend an obscene amount of money on law enforcement."

Last week, deputy police chief Peter Sloly pissed off a bunch of his colleagues when he criticized the TPS' inflated billion-dollar budget and suggested the force could stand to lose hundreds of officers. Days after making the comments, Sloly went on "annual leave."

York University criminology professor Lesley J. Wood told VICE that by manipulating the public's fear of violence, cops give themselves "a blank cheque and authority to buy the latest and greatest tools being marketed."

Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, said he's "outraged" at the decision.

"This is a slap in the face to all those who've worked tirelessly to change and highlight the way police are unjustifiably violent towards certain communities," he said.

"Torontonians are demanding a community that is more safe from trigger happy racist cops... This only builds more fear and distrust of police."

A jury is currently deciding whether or not Constable James Forcillo's committed murder when he shot and killed local teenager Sammy Yatim on a streetcar. Forcillo's dependence on his gun had reportedly been flagged by cops a year before the Yatim shooting took place. Meanwhile the Toronto Police Services Board on Wednesday discussed its body camera pilot project aimed at reducing violent interactions with civilians.

But a firearms specialist, who did not want to be named, told VICE the hysteria over these guns is misguided. In reality, he said carbines can stop an assailant more efficiently and effectively than a handgun or a shotgun and that its bullets are less likely to exit the body of a target, so bystanders aren't as likely to be hit.

Using the 2013 murders of three RCMP officers in Moncton, New Brunswick as an example, he said police "are facing violent threats that are heavily armed, and the threats they face do not operate under the same rules of engagement as they do."

That said, this type of "more guns makes you safer" logic rarely works out well.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.

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