Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared two Vancouver police officers of any wrongdoing after they fired “less lethal” firearms at demonstrators during the anti-COVID-19 mandate protests in Ottawa in February.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit opened the probe after the officers with the Vancouver Police Department’s emergency response team fired the Anti-riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) and a 40-millimetre Penn Arms launcher (L140-4) during efforts to clear the protests on Feb. 19.
The SIU said no injuries had been reported. However, unlike British Columbia’s civilian police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office, Ontario’s SIU is mandated to investigate all firearm discharges, including less-lethal weapons.
The SIU’s report cited statements from several witnesses, along with two people struck by the officers’ projectiles, drone footage, and surveillance footage from several sources.
Neither of the VPD officers was legally required to be interviewed. Both declined an interview, but one submitted a written statement.
According to the report, the officers were supporting Public Safety Units officers attempting to push a crowd of protesters south on Bank Street, so that police could erect a fence on the roadway.
“The atmosphere was tense as the parties physically engaged and pushed back against each other. A number of arrests were made,” the report states.
The report states that three men climbed onto a concrete barrier on the east side of the street, one of whom began to shine a bright flashlight in officers’ faces. The VPD officer with the L140-4 fired several times at the men, striking the man with the flashlight in the face and knocking him into the crowd, and striking other two men who climbed down, according to the report.
The second officer fired the ARWEN twice, the report states, striking one protester in the leg who was “moving towards officers, some of whom had fallen in the push forward,” and another protester ” who had been fighting with police officers and was moving again towards the front lines,” the report states.
In his decision, SIU director Joseph Martino said there were no grounds to conclude either officer had committed an offence.
Martino found the use of projectiles against the men on with the flashlight was reasonable, given they were attempting to interfere with officers vision and were deep in the crowd.
The other officer’s actions were also reasonable as they were “directed at the legs of two protesters who seemed on the verge of physically engaging with the officers,” he found.
In April, the SIU closed another investigation announced at the same time as the probe into the VPD officers in which a woman was knocked to the ground by an officer on horseback.
At the time, the SIU said the woman did not suffer a serious injury.