More than nine months after a gunman rampaged through Nova Scotia in a mock-up RCMP cruiser and killed 22 people, the federal government has announced a “moratorium” on the sale of decommissioned RCMP cruisers.
“The RCMP has a resale process for vehicles it no longer needs that ensures they cannot easily be misused for criminal purposes,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair in a statement on Friday.
“We are suspending the sale of decommissioned RCMP vehicles on an interim basis to ensure that this process remains appropriate and robust.”
Blair said two “very serious incidents” in Nova Scotia spurred the suspension.
The gunman of the Nova Scotia shooting was driving a vehicle, decorated with decals and lights, that made it look like an RCMP cruiser.
The vehicle — and a realistic-looking RCMP uniform — would help him evade police over 13 hours on April 18 and 19, 2020, as he killed 22 people, including RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson.
More recently, a 23-year-old man from Antigonish, N.S., was arrested this week for driving what appeared to look like an unmarked police vehicle and allegedly pulling over other vehicles.
The vehicle was outfitted with LED lights in the rear window, a microphone on the dashboard, a public address system, citizens band radio and a push bar with LED lights mounted on the grill.
Police also confirmed the suspect did not appear to have any police clothing or firearms of any kind.
The move comes one day after Nova Scotia Justice Minister Mark Furey confirmed that the province has drafted legislation that would make it more difficult for buyers to impersonate an officer using a decommissioned police vehicle.
That legislation, expected to be brought forward when the legislature resumes mid-February, would not ban the sale of used police vehicles, but create tighter rules around the removal of police identifiers, such as sirens, push bars, LED lights and decals.
“The federal moratorium reinforces limitations already in place that restrict public access to equipment that could be used for impersonating a police officer, as well as the legislative work that is currently underway in Nova Scotia,” Furey wrote in an emailed statement on Friday.
Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence for people to “falsely represent” themselves as police officers. It’s also a crime when someone uses police equipment, such as a badge, vehicle or article of clothing, in a way that would lead people to believe the person is a police officer.
However, it is not illegal to possess or own police vehicles, with companies using decommissioned vehicles for TV shows and movies or even collecting them.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday he was pleased with Blair’s decision.
“It’s a great first step,” McNeil said, adding that the province’s justice minister, Mark Furey, has been working with Blair on the police vehicle file.
“We have a piece of legislation that will be introduced during the next session. It deals with (police) accessories and how to deal with municipal (police) vehicles in our province.”
According to Dave Giles, vice-president of operations and trade at ALL EV Canada, an electric vehicle dealership in Dartmouth, it’s easy — and cheap — to buy ex-police vehicles at Canadian auctions. Time and again, he told Global News, he’s seen them sold for less than $3,000 with some of their police identifiers intact.
“Some of them still had racks in them, electronic equipment, and that’s because a lot of the manufacturers incorporate these components into the vehicles during the build, so that means to remove them from the vehicles is such a costly endeavour,” he explained.
He called Ottawa’s moratorium “a step in the right direction.”
Carleton University criminology professor Darryl Davies — a frequent commentator on RCMP matters — said “it’s not unreasonable” that it took nine months for the federal government to take this kind of action, given how long politicians usually take to react to crisis with new legislation.
He also said there’s a limit to the measures Ottawa can take to stop people from impersonating police, because many Canadians have legitimate reasons to collect police paraphernalia and memorabilia.
“Some do it as hobbyists and collectors and so on, and that in a free society, is acceptable,” he explained. “The question of course is being able to obtain intelligence quickly and efficiently who are doing that.
“If FINTRAC is going to monitor large scale financial transactions, we should be monitoring large scale purchase of equipment related to military and police to ensure it’s not finding its way into extremist type groups in this country.”
In the statement issued Friday, Blair did not seem to indicate that the federal government was willing to criminalize the possession of police uniforms.
“During this moratorium, the Government of Canada and the RCMP will examine the policies that are currently in place and work towards long-term solutions that further ensure these vehicles are not improperly outfitted or otherwise misused,” he said.
“It remains illegal to impersonate a police officer and we will take every step possible to prevent such crimes from taking place.”
The Mounties had little to say on the Friday’s suspension, apart from a short written statement to Global News indicating its “looking at its policies and practices to see where improvements can be made.”
With files from The Canadian Press