Alberta bans armoured vehicles to slow gangs

Alberta is bringing in a new law that will ban armoured vehicles from the province's roads in a move to crack down on gangs.
Vehicles with armoured parts, such as this SUV, will be illegal in Alberta under a new law. ((Calgary Police Service))

Alberta is bringing in a new law that will ban armoured vehicles from the province's roads in a move to crack down on gangs.

The amendment to a traffic law, which takes effect July 1, will mean police can seize such vehicles and require them to undergo an inspection.

While the modified vehicles have not yet turned up in Alberta, police in British Columbia have seized vehicles from criminals that have been adapted to protect them from gunfire, explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades. Some cars and SUVs have been found equipped with armoured plates, hidden compartments and bulletproof glass up to three centimetres thick.

Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford said she felt it was vital to be proactive before the armoured vehicles become common in Alberta.

"I believe that they're coming. I know that what we have seen with respect to guns and drugs and different organized gangs is that they all get here and so we need to try and make this environment as unfriendly as possible, as soon as possible," Redford said Wednesday.

"We need to get these vehicles, which are weapons in and of themselves, off the streets."

Police in B.C. have seized vehicles with bulletproof glass up to three centimetres thick. ((Calgary Police Service))

The new law is an amendment to the Traffic Safety Act. Vehicles that don't pass the inspection can be removed from the road and their drivers could face a penalty of $2,000 and six months in jail.

Redford called the beefed-up vehicles a threat to public safety — and not just because they might attract gunfire.

"After-market modifications also generally add significant weight to the vehicle and that impacts traffic safety. If that weight is not offset by an enhanced engine, suspension and brakes, the vehicle is unsafe and poses a serious risk to other drivers on the road," she said.

The new law won't affect legitimate vehicles such as military-owned equipment, trucks used to transport cash for banks, or other armoured vehicles purchased directly from manufacturers.

Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson said he doesn't want gang members to feel they're safe in armoured cars while they try to shoot their rivals.

While Calgary police say they've seen hidden compartments to hide guns and drugs in vehicles, they have yet to see an illegally armoured car in Alberta, even though they suspect such vehicles are out there.

The announcement comes as police and politicians get ready for the Alberta Gang Crime Summit, which begins in Calgary on Thursday.

Bid to 'appear tough on crime,' Liberal says

Kent Hehr, justice critic for the Alberta Liberals, called Wednesday's announcement an attempt by the Ed Stelmach administration to flex "like an oiled-up bodybuilder."

"This is another attempt by the government to appear tough on crime," said Hehr. "I put forward a bill to make our streets safer. The minister killed that bill, and now she's playing Mad Max chasing imaginary criminals in nonexistent armoured cars."

Hehr introduced a private member's bill in March that proposed allowing police to levy a maximum $25,000 fine and suspend the driver's licence of anyone carrying an illegal weapon in a vehicle. The motion was voted down by the Conservative government.

The Calgary-Buffalo MLA said he doesn't oppose the armoured-vehicle bill in principle, but felt resources should be devoted to more immediate criminal threats.

"There is no indication that this is a necessary measure right now. This is not a real problem in Calgary, or any other part of Alberta. If I were cynical, I might conclude that this is a measure designed to feed off public fears."

With files from Scott Dippel