NEWS

Toronto Police Rifle Purchase: Critic Slams Decision As 'Incredibly Misguided'

01/22/2016 02:42 EST | Updated 01/25/2016 04:59 EST

An Ottawa criminal lawyer says the Toronto police force's decision to buy high-powered rifles in bulk for front-line use is “incredibly misguided.”

“Weapons, when they’re accessible to police, tend to be used,” Michael Spratt of Abergel Goldstein & Partners said in an interview with The Huffington Post Canada on Friday. “We’ve seen this in the Yatim case.”

He was referring to the teen who was shot to death by police on a Toronto streetcar in 2013 after officers responded to calls that Sammy Yatim was brandishing a knife. Const. James Forcillo is currently awaiting a verdict in his trial for second-degree murder and attempted murder.

In the same week that the jury began deliberating, the Toronto Police Service announced it is purchasing 51 military-style assault rifles.

Dozens of these C8 patrol carbines have been purchased by Toronto police. (Photo: Colt Canada)

According to several reports, the C8 patrol carbines are high-powered semi-automatic rifles made in Kitchener, Ont. by Colt Canada. Each weapon costs between $2,000 and $3,000.

Colt developed the gun with the Canadian Armed Forces, and describes it as “battle proven in harsh combat environments.”

Dozens of Toronto officers across the city’s 17 divisions will be equipped with the rifles in May, according to CBC News. The force's special squads, including the Emergency Task Force and Guns and Gangs Unit, have already used them for years, the Toronto Star reported.

Police Chief Mark Saunders told the CBC the weapons are needed for "officer safety."

"This increase of armament ... distances the police from the citizenry it should be engaging with and protecting." — Lawyer Michael Spratt

The Toronto police rifle purchase jeopardizes the force's relationship with the public, Spratt said.

"This increase of armament — whether it be armoured vehicles, riot gear, or deadly automatic weapons that distances the police from the citizenry which it should be engaging with and protecting — it does nothing for relations," he said.

"Clearly what is needed is an operational shift in how police think about the most basic aspects of their job. More guns don’t make us safer."

Toronto police did not return The Huffington Post Canada's requests for comment.

Cops pushing for new guns

Police communities have been pushing for enhanced weapons since RCMP officers were gunned down in two major incidents in the past decade.

In 2005, four officers were killed while investigating a marijuana grow-operation in Mayerthorpe, Alta.

moncton shooting Three RCMP officers were killed during a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B. in 2014. (Photo: Canadian Press)

Then in 2014, Justin Bourque went on a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B. and killed three officers.

An independent review of the RCMP’s response in Moncton found that different guns may have helped responding officers.

'Creeping' police militarization

The militarization of police is a hot-button topic south of the border, and has become a “creeping” concern in Canada.

In the early 2000s, Vancouver police established a “military liaison unit” to coordinate security for the 2010 Olympics. The elite team blurred lines between police and military, setting up communications between the two forces. The program also provided military training for some police officers, reported The Walrus.

But one researcher found there were larger ambitions for such a unit. According to The Walrus, the idea was actually pitched to police services across the country including Calgary, Victoria, and the Maritimes.

Ottawa police tank

In 2010, the Ottawa police spent $340,000 on an armoured Lenco G3 BearCat, which features blast-resistant floors, gun ports, and a roof turret.

“The police seemed quite proud of it,” Spratt wrote at the time for iPolitics.

“Anyone who’s lived in anarchic Ottawa might be justified in asking: How did our police get by this long without a tank?”

Also on HuffPost:

Moncton Shooting