Queen Elizabeth funeral presents ‘immense security challenge.’ What to expect

Click to play video: 'London police prepare for major security challenges ahead of Queen’s funeral'
London police prepare for major security challenges ahead of Queen’s funeral
WATCH: Jeff Semple explains what the police are preparing for, and their biggest priorities and concerns – Sep 15, 2022

London will be welcoming many from around the world over the coming days as the United Kingdom prepares to say goodbye to Queen Elizabeth II.

From prime ministers to presidents, the funeral of the 96-year-old British monarch is expected to draw in hundreds of thousands of people to the city, with many Canadians likely to be among them.

But with an event of this magnitude, British police are faced with an “immense security challenge” that is going to be witnessed first-hand by many who are there, said Phil Boyle, an associate professor in the department of sociology and legal studies at the University of Waterloo.

“London, already being such a dense, crowded and layered city, provides or presents all kinds of security challenges, and then you add in the heads of state and all the extra security that they would require,” he told Global News.

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“It really does look like an immense security challenge, and it is an immense security challenge.”

Britain prepares for mass crowds

The death of Queen Elizabeth II has been met with a wave of grief around the world. As global citizens mourn their queen, dignitaries and others are preparing to descend on London for the state funeral on Monday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Governor General Mary Simon and Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Ralph Goodale will be among the “official mourners” from Canada, Goodale told The Canadian Press on Sept. 11. U.S. President Joe Biden and his wife are also attending the funeral, CNN reported on Monday.

Thousands of people line the streets as the coffin of Queen Elizabeth leaves Buckingham Palace, followed by King Charles lll and Royal Family members as they make their way to Westminster Hall where the Queen will lie in state on Sept. 14. Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

As soon as Canadians arrive at British airports, they should expect to see “heightened police presence immediately,” said Boyle.

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That security presence will likely be more visible as they make their way to where the queen will be.

“You would also see a lot of security at train stations coming into London, probably heightened security at train stations leaving other cities heading to London and probably on the trains as well,” he said.

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“Some of that security would be overt and visible. Some of that security would not be, and that would be part of a layered security approach that they like to take in Britain.”

Click to play video: '‘I feel privileged…to say goodbye’: Thousands line up in Edinburgh to pay their respects to Queen'
‘I feel privileged…to say goodbye’: Thousands line up in Edinburgh to pay their respects to Queen

Before the state funeral takes place, mourners will be able to pay their respects to the queen as she lies in state at Westminster Hall in London from Wednesday to Monday morning. Mourners in Scotland were able to pay their respects to the queen before she arrived in London Tuesday night. The queen died last Thursday in her beloved Balmoral Castle, which is in Scotland.

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For her lying in state, visitors will go through “airport-style security” and there are “tight restrictions” on what you can take in, the British government said on Monday. The lines to see the queen’s coffin are expected to be exceptionally long. Police may conduct security searches along parts of the queue.

Those who get to see the queen lying in state are only allowed to carry a small bag, officials said. Water bottles, food, flowers are among the items not allowed inside Westminster Hall during the lying in state.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said on Tuesday that it has introduced airspace restrictions covering Elizabeth’s funeral as part of the overall security arrangements. It had published two restrictions so far, with an additional central London and Windsor restriction set to be issued.

On Sept. 9, London police said the public will begin seeing additional officers posted outside key locations like transport hubs, Royal Parks and outside Royal residences in London. Road closures are being introduced at several locations in Westminster.

“Although we recognize these road closures may cause some inconvenience, they are necessary to ensure the safety of those members of public visiting London and to allow the planned ceremonial events to take place,” the force said.

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“We will be keeping people safe with highly visible patrols across London.”

What ‘cost’ will heightened security come at?

London, being one of the oldest cities in the world, has seen its fair share of major events. While the death of a monarch is likely novel for many people, there have been occasions where security has had to be increased to handle major crowds, Boyle said.

Police and Union Flags line the route along The Mall prior to the procession which will carry the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall in London on Sept. 14. Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

The most recent example would be the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, where London had an increased military presence and had to install new equipment, including facial-recognition CCTV systems, among other measures, according to The Guardian at the time.

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“Security and ceremony are not happy bedfellows. The trick we pulled off with the Olympics is, you need to manage the security in a way that’s commensurate with the dignity of the occasion but without leaving anybody at any greater risk than they need to be,” said Bob Broadhurst, a former head of public order at the Metropolitan police, in an interview with The Guardian on Sept. 12.

He added the queen’s funeral is complicated because the “Royal Family wants to be seen and wants to be close to their public,” which is an “absolutely frightening” prospect for those managing security.

British police can’t secure all of London, and if they tried to, it would come at the expense of not letting people pay tribute to the queen, said Boyle. Instead, police will be relying on risk assessments about where they need to focus their efforts and who they need to be monitoring or looking out for.

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This is an event they have been planning for, but the question Boyle has is: “Are those efforts going to be compatible with the norms and rights of protest and freedom of expression in democratic society?”

“We’re already seeing reports up in Edinburgh after the passing of the queen about people being arrested for fairly mundane, fairly arbitrary things,” he said, specifically referring to a woman who was among three people arrested on Sunday and Monday in the Scottish capital. She was holding an anti-monarchy sign, and was later charged with breaching of the peace.

A man is arrested prior to the cortege carrying the coffin of the late Queen Elizabeth II passing on Sept. 12 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Scottish police said they had made three arrests in Edinburgh relating to breaches of the peace on Sunday and Monday as Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was moved around the city. Peter Summers/Getty Images

“Those kinds of police powers are really concerning because disturbing the public order can be very vague, can be very encompassing and it gives police immense discretion to arrest people or to otherwise stifle democratic rights,” he said.

“That’s one of the big questions we need to see over the next few days. I have no doubt that the police will be able to make it secure, but at what cost will that come in terms of the rights and norms of freedom of expression and protests in a democratic society?”

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— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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