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Ontario watchdog clears VPD officers who fired riot weapons at Ottawa protesters

Click to play video: 'Trucker protests: Police confirm use of non-lethal weapon on protesters who continued to exhibit ‘unruly behaviour’' Trucker protests: Police confirm use of non-lethal weapon on protesters who continued to exhibit ‘unruly behaviour’
Ottawa's Interim Police Chief Steve Bell said on Sunday that police continued to have "major issues with a group of dispersed protesters" on Saturday night who exhibited "unruly behaviour" with officers who were attempting to install barriers and fencing. Bell confirmed that the confrontations led police to discharge a non-lethal anti-riot weapon at protesters, adding that they're not aware of any injuries – Feb 20, 2022

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.

Read more: Watchdog probes Toronto mounted officer, Vancouver police over Ottawa incidents

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 40-millimetre Penn Arms launcher (L140-4) used by one of the Vancouver police officers.
The 40-millimetre Penn Arms launcher (L140-4) used by one of the Vancouver police officers. SIU

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.

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Neither of the VPD officers was legally required to be interviewed. Both declined an interview, but one submitted a written statement.

Read more: Woman involved in horse accident at Ottawa protest was ‘not seriously’ hurt: watchdog

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 Anti-riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) used by one of the Vancouver police officers.
The Anti-riot Weapon Enfield (ARWEN) used by one of the Vancouver police officers. SIU

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.

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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.

Click to play video: 'Police continue arrests, towing trucks in Ottawa' Police continue arrests, towing trucks in Ottawa
Police continue arrests, towing trucks in Ottawa – Feb 19, 2022

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.

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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.

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