Watchdog clears Vancouver officers' use of 'less-lethal' rounds during Ottawa convoy

·4 min read
Police clutch batons as they form a line to block Sparks Street near Bank Street Feb. 19, 2022. The incidents under SIU investigation happened that day around that intersection. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Police clutch batons as they form a line to block Sparks Street near Bank Street Feb. 19, 2022. The incidents under SIU investigation happened that day around that intersection. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Ontario's independent police watchdog says two Vancouver police officers who hit protesters with "less-lethal" projectiles around the end of this winter's occupation of downtown Ottawa streets did not break any laws.

Officers from a number of police departments across the country were in Ottawa to assist local officers policing the Freedom Convoy protests.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was looking into what happened the evening of Feb. 19 as police flooded the city's core to push out people who had set up around Parliament Hill for the Freedom Convoy.

This unit examines incidents where police shoot a firearm at someone, along with police involvement in a death, serious injury or allegation of sexual assault.

In this case, the SIU said in a report published Monday that police officers were trying to move a crowd of people south on Bank Street from Sparks Street so they could set up a fence.

It said it used video from sources including police, the city and the nearby Bank of Canada building, interviewed two of the people hit by projectiles and three witnessing officers.

Both officers under investigation declined an interview and opportunity to submit their notes. The second officer (as he's described below) gave a written statement.

Person with flashlight hit in the face

People in the crowd didn't listen to police telling them to move back and both sides were pushing against each other, according to the report.

At one point, a still-unknown person climbed a concrete barrier near the Bank Street McDonald's and shone a bright flashlight onto officers' faces.

One of the two officers shot at this person with his 40-mm L140-4 Penn Arms launcher. A projectile hit them in the face and knocked them off the barrier, the SIU said. They then disappeared into the crowd and their identity remains unknown to the unit.

Special Investigations Unit
Special Investigations Unit

The two men who spoke to the SIU were standing beside the person with the light when they were hit by a projectile shot by the same officer. They then got off the barrier and left, the SIU said.

Without saying which projectiles may have hit people, the SIU said they fired four batons made of an unspecified material and an oleoresin capsicum or pepper spray round.

The second officer under SIU investigation shot two ARWEN (Anti Riot Weapon ENfield) projectiles at people's legs, the report said.

One was at someone moving toward officers that had fallen, the other toward someone who had been described as fighting with police who was again approaching the police line.

Seen as reasonable force

The SIU concluded both officers used reasonable force: firstly, that they were doing lawful crowd control.

"The plan was not to shut down the gathering, but simply to direct the protesters a short distance south so that safety fencing could be erected across the road," it said.

"Those in the crowd had repeatedly been directed to move south before the officers began their push forward."

Second, it said their use of their firearms was justified.

"[The first officer's rounds] were aimed at a man who was intentionally aiming a flashlight in the faces of the officers, presumably to interfere with their vision. Given the man's distance from the front lines of the police, it would have been impractical and perhaps even dangerous to wade into the crowd to deal with the man directly," according to the report.

"As for the shots fired by [the second officer], these too were commensurate with the exigencies of the moment.… In both instances, the force succeeded in deterring the protesters, presumably without the infliction of serious injury."

It said while it was "regrettable" the two men beside the person with the flashlight got shot, their distance from the officer with the launcher, position near the light and the less-lethal projectiles mean it's not criminal negligence.

SIU closed earlier investigation

Supporters of the occupation, which has morphed into a "Freedom Movement" that's sent protesters back to the capital and plans to do so again through the summer, have expressed anger at police forcing them out and say that operation wasn't legal.

Police and government officials had said the right to protest did not allow for people to camp out on streets indefinitely disrupting people, businesses and travel.

Earlier, the SIU called off another investigation from the same weekend, saying the strained shoulder of a woman knocked over by a police horse didn't meet its definition of a serious injury.

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