Trudeau took 'unprecedented' step by wearing bulletproof vest: RCMP sources

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau took an "unprecedented" step by wearing a bulletproof vest at a campaign rally in response to a security threat, say two veteran RCMP sources.

The sources, who are familiar with the operations of the prime minister's personal security detail, told CBC News they've seen leaders wear body armour in other countries, but not Canada. 

It's also unprecedented to have a heavily armed tactical team in plain sight around Trudeau, they said. Normally those highly trained RCMP members are covert, not out in the open at campaign events, the sources said. 

On Saturday, Trudeau's scheduled appearance at a rally of 2,000 supporters in Mississauga was delayed by 90 minutes and featured a much heavier security detail once he took the stage.

Surrounded Trudeau

Uniformed tactical officers wearing knapsacks, as well as officers in plainclothes, surrounded him as he addressed the crowd. Some of the plainclothes officers were from Trudeau's protective detail, while others were from the VIP protective policing unit. 

CBC News sources confirmed that at the Mississauga rally, Trudeau wore a bulletproof vest  — also known as soft body armour — and that the beefed-up protection was a result of a security threat. The details of that threat have not been revealed.

Stephane Mahe/Reuters

The uniformed men were with the RCMP's Emergency Response Team, which is usually at Trudeau's events, but kept out of sight. They are trained to resolve extremely high-risk situations that are potentially violent and often dynamic in nature, according to the RCMP's website. Along with VIP and witness protection duties, the team resolves incidents where people are armed and barricaded in a building. 

Knapsacks held weapons

The knapsacks they carried held firearms, according to RCMP sources. As well, one officer wore a ballistic shield on his back that looks like a rolled up mat. This shield can be used to cover Trudeau, making him a more difficult target for an attacker. But the shield can also be used to stop bullets. 

RCMP sources told CBC News that police conduct threat assessments for all events that political leaders attend. When a leader faces a serious security threat, the protective detail will then sit down with the leader to discuss how the RCMP want to move forward. They all will then negotiate a plan.

If the leader, for example, still wanted to attend an event despite a high threat level, the RCMP would have to add additional safety measures.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

The delay Saturday night may have been connected to the negotiations and implementation of the plan. Also, the fact that Trudeau was late going on stage, signals the threat likely came late in the day. Otherwise, it would have been already factored into the operations plan, the RCMP sources said. 

Speaking about the incident to reporters at a food drive event in Toronto on Sunday, Trudeau refused to offer any specifics about the threat, saying only that his first concern was for the safety of his family and for all those at the Mississauga event.

"I took advice from the RCMP, worked with them," he said. 

On the sidelines

Trudeau was not wearing a bulletproof vest today, but tactical officers were seen on the sidelines. 

In a statement to CBC News, the RCMP said it "does not comment on security measures afforded to the prime minister."

Last month, sources told CBC News the RCMP were compiling daily threat reports on online hate targeting political leaders during the campaign leading up to the Oct. 21 election, fearing it could spill over into real-world violence. 

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in online posts condoning violence during the campaign, according to government sources close to the file.  RCMP officials have been chasing down credible threats in a variety of ways including surveillance, phone calls and knocking on doors, according to RCMP sources.