Police watchdog clears Vancouver officers who fired non-lethal rounds at ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters

Ontario’s police watchdog has cleared two Vancouver police officers who fired non-lethal rounds at two protesters in Ottawa during the ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests.

The officers were part of the police operation that helped clear the downtown core of the occupation, which lasted for three weeks and led all three levels of government to invoke emergency powers.

“On my assessment of the evidence, there are no reasonable grounds to believe that either officer committed a criminal offence in connection with the use of their weapons,” Special Investigations Unit director Joseph Martino said in his ruling.

The incident happened at Bank and Sparks Street the night of Feb. 19, as police were attempting to direct the crowd south on Bank Street so a fence could be erected. 

The shots were fired at a 36-year-old man and a 41-year-old man. The SIU interviewed both men in the following days. No serious injuries were reported.

‘Atmosphere was tense’

The SIU investigation lays out what led the officers to fire their non-lethal weapons.

Investigators said the front lines of police and protesters were face-to-face. The numbers of protesters were in the thousands by some estimates.

“The atmosphere was tense as the parties physically engaged and pushed back against each other. A number of arrests were made,” the report said.

The 36 and 41-year-old men climbed atop a concrete barrier on the east side of Bank Street near the McDonald’s. Beside them was another man whose identity remains unknown, who shone a flashlight into police officers’ eyes.

One officer fired several rounds of an L140-4, a less-lethal firearm—at the man. He was struck in the face, knocked off the barrier and disappeared into the crow.

Another of the rounds struck the two other men, who climbed down the barrier and left the area.

The second officer was armed with an ARWEN, an anti-riot weapon.

“In order to deter protesters moving towards officers, some of whom had fallen in the push forward, the officer fired his ARWEN striking one such protester in the leg. He fired his weapon a second time at another protester who had been fighting with police officers and was moving again towards the front lines,” the SIU investigation found.

SIU used video footage, interviews

Five SIU investigators were assigned to the case. They used Ottawa police drone footage, city street surveillance video, and video footage from the nearby Parliamentary Services and Bank of Canada buildings.

Investigators interviewed three witness officials. The two officers under investigation declined to be interviewed, which is within their legal rights. However, one of the officers provided a written statement.

SIU director Martino said he is satisfied the officers’ deployment of the less lethal firearms was legally justified in both cases.

The first officer’s shots were aimed at the man with the flashlight who was trying to interfere with officers’ 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.”

The second officer’s shots were also “commensurate with the exigencies of the moment.

“They were directed at the legs of two protesters who seemed on the verge of physically engaging with the officers, including officers who were on the ground at the time. In both instances, the force succeeded in deterring the protesters, presumably without the infliction of serious injury.”

You can read the full SIU report here.

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