There will be "rigid rules" surrounding the new military-style assault rifles acquired by Toronto police and the weapons will protect front-line officers, Chief Mark Saunders says.
Police have purchased at least 50 C8 carbine assault rifles, which cost about $2,000 each, from Colt Canada. The high-powered weapons will be carried in some patrol carriers in all of the city's 17 divisions beginning in May.
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"I think that it will enhance public safety," Saunders told reporters outside a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, emphasizing his goal of a "no harm, zero death" form of policing.
"Officers have always had the use of a long gun weapon. I've switched it to the C8," he said.
The new weapon is more accurate than a 12-gauge shotgun and can be used by more officers, Saunders said. He added there will be "very rigid rules" about when officers can take the guns out and that only those who undergo extensive training will be allowed to use them.
Emergency Task Force officers are already equipped with C8 carbines.
Saunders also added that police shotguns will now be loaded with "sock rounds" — essentially bean bags — which means officers will actually have more of what police call "less-lethal" options than before.
The chief also said police have seized 11 machine guns in the city and that there are more firearms out there.
"I need a long rifle use of force out there for officer safety," Saunders said.
Mayor John Tory, also present for the police board meeting, told reporters that he believes the force's decision to acquire the guns is "reasonable" and doesn't represent the militarization of police in the city.
Police services across the GTA, including the Ontario Provincial Police, also use the C8 rifle.
Weapons can be used for de-escalation, police trainer says
The chief said there have been incidents in the past where high-powered weapons are necessary, including the Rainbow Motel shootout in 1991, in which two murder suspects fired some 413 bullets at Toronto police officers.
John Weiler, a use of force and senior firearms coordinator at the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ont., says the weapons are a safer alternative in situations with active shooters or barricaded subjects.
"I don't believe we are over-arming the police at all. I think what we are doing is we are enhancing not only officer safety but public safety, as well," he said.
Weiler added the guns can also be used as part of a de-escalation strategy that allows officers to be farther away from dangerous suspects.