Engaging a Charter Right

The Canadian aversion to arming parallel law enforcement personnel concerns me. Responding to alarm calls in my early years, I recall the ‘key holder’ security car officers always had a gun on their hip. I always felt just a little safer knowing this.

The guns gradually disappeared and when I asked why, no one seemed to have an answer. From then on I had to worry not only about my own safety but the security officer as well when entering a building. The stress level ratcheted up a couple of notches.

Nowadays the dispatcher tells lone responders to await back-up, which takes two officers off the road for an alarm call. Get the picture here?

Years back I asked why nuclear power plant security officers were not armed. “I don’t know” was the refreshingly forthright answer from a high level police supervisor.

So what was the issue with arming them? Politicians and top leaders at these organizations were speechless when asked this question. Is it lack of faith in the officer’s ability? Public opinion? Traditional, heavy handed gun control?

I asked the same question over the years regarding customs officers, park wardens and transit security officers. After giving testimony at a Parliamentary Inquiry into customs officers a few years back I helped others gain a small victory by getting them armed.

Change has moved at a snail’s pace but some has come about. Nuclear power plant security was eventually armed. Parliament Hill security now carry weapons, though it did take an armed and motivated attacker, intent on killing or be killed, to spur top leaders into action. What this attacker had not counted on was raw courage from an unarmed security officer who attempted to disarm him. That officer was shot in the foot but bought enough time for the Sergeant at Arms to unlock a security box, retrieve a gun and ultimately stop the attacker.

A sober second look at this would quickly determine the attacker would never have gotten on to Parliament Hill, let alone Centre Block itself, had that lone security officer been armed with more than just his courage.

Admittedly some parts of the country show a glimmer of understanding the risks. Alberta Sheriffs are now armed and so are officers with that rather ungainly named South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service. This agency armed their officers after several nasty close calls which upped the ante on officer and public safety. One other factor included its cross jurisdictional design which includes multiple police agencies in a small geographic area.

Immediately after the Ottawa incidents armed police were sent to protect public works and transit sites across the country. This sudden need for armed protection severely stretched police agencies and, of course, was not sustainable for long. Yet, security officers who patrol Canada’s largest transit system, riding it daily and becoming the most familiar with the tiniest nuances of the facilities and those who use it, are still unarmed. This even though police know the Toronto subway is the transportation of choice for many escaping felons. The Toronto Transit system now has a subway that extends out of the city. With an unarmed security service which police agency do they call when trouble erupts on or near borders? Would the system be now better served if it adopted the BC model?

After all the mass shooting incidents in Canada and the U.S. why are we still taking a chance with unarmed campus police? Yes, in some cases they are called “police” but hampered in their ability to protect their people from armed and dangerous intruders. Their only option is to call in other police from off-campus who, in most cases, know little about the roads or labyrinth of buildings.

While we are on the topic there should also be a push for proper panic rooms. In a recent shopping visit to a massive American shopping mall my wife and I were surprised by a ringing bell in the book store we were browsing through. All the staff immediately began hurrying us to the back of the store into the lunch room. After the last person crowded in the metal door was shut and a bar placed across it. After about five minutes an “all clear” was broadcast and we were let out. This was an “armed intruder” drill. Great idea. Canada take note.

“When seconds count police are only minutes away,” an old saying sarcastically notes. It is time we stopped equating firearms with police alone. The people guarding transit systems, airports, shopping malls or any place where there is a large gathering of people should be permitted to carry firearms. After all, a country that wants to have gun control must reassure its citizens that the nearest uniform, and not just police officers, will be armed and suitably trained to protect them.

This is summed up in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person…” While politicians fight the battle for better rhetoric they should be aware that it is up to them to ensure this right is actively engaged.