Ontario proposing changes to how police handle 'active attacker incidents'

The changes would create protocols for responding to and managing incidents like the Toronto van attack in 2018. They would include better equipment for patrol officers, planning for coordinated responses and a post-incident report that includes specific details, analysis and areas for improvement.

Regulation would standardize procedures, protocols across province

Toronto police officers gather at the scene of the Yonge street van attack on April 23, 2018. (Albert Leung/CBC )

The Ontario government is proposing changes to the way police prepare for and manage "active attacker scenarios," including better equipping patrol officers, planning for coordinated responses and a post-incident report that includes specific details, analysis and areas for improvement.

The draft regulation falls under the province's new Community Safety and Policing Act, which was passed in 2019 but has not come into force. 

"There are not currently any provincial standards or guidance for police services on responding to an active attacker incident, which is why we are taking action to keep communities safe through this proposed regulation," said Stephen Warner, spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General.

"Active attacker incidents, including school shootings, for example, have the potential for significant injury and loss of life."

Though there are already related protocols for handling these types of incidents in many police services, the regulation would standardize protocols across the province. The Ministry of the Solicitor General is seeking public consultation on this proposed changes until July 26.

Protocols welcomed by chiefs, police union

While there are still questions about funding and whether it goes far enough to outline deterrence measures, it's being welcomed by provincial police chiefs, union leaders and other policing experts.

The draft regulation defines an active attacker situation as one where an individual appears to be engaged or is trying to engage in an attack that will cause serious bodily harm or death and that they'll continue to attack other individuals if they're not stopped.

Three RCMP officers were killed in a 2014 attack in Moncton, and another two were injured. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The ministry said the regulation was derived from common protocols among different police forces, and lessons from the Independent review following the 2014 Moncton shooting and the public inquiry after the Mayerthorpe tragedy in 2005.

The proposed regulation would ensure patrol officers — who are often the first to confront an active attacker — have access to a specific equipment such as a battering ram, and that every patrol car contains protective equipment such as hard body armour. It also dictates how a coordinated response and communication would take place with other emergency services and how public alerts would be sent out.

"I think what is unique about this regulation is this will compel it to be a standalone procedure now. So chiefs will have to have the additional equipment, the additional resources in place in order to comply with this regulation," said Chatham-Kent Police Chief Gary Conn, the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), which was part of consultations on the proposed regulation.

Gary Conn, the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, says he supports the standardization of protocols for 'active attacker' scenarios across the province. (Chatham-Kent Police Service)

"Ultimately, it's going to increase officer safety, and if our officers have more tools to keep them safe, then they can keep protecting the community," said Mark Baxter, president of the Police Association of Ontario, who added the regulation would in particular help smaller rural police services.

"We want to ensure that those officers have access to the same resources and the same tools and the same equipment that an officer in a large urban municipality has access to."

Missing details

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, said there are positive elements in the proposed regulation — particularly the requirement for a chief to draft a report following the attack that would include details of the incident, the response and what could have been improved.

"To the extent that the regulation has that as a requirement for the police to address, I think it's a good idea," he said.

However, Mukherjee said what's missing is protocols surrounding deterrence in situations where an individual has not yet carried out an active attack, but is threatening to do so. He pointed to training around negotiation and coordinating an emergency response.

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, supports the proposed regulation but says details around protocols for deterrence are missing. (CBC)

"If somebody has not committed the attack, if somebody is threatening, how is a police team to deal with that?"

Conn said there are questions about funding that would accompany the proposed regulation, particularly in smaller municipal police services. However, he said he's optimistic the money will flow should the regulation be approved.

"I'm hoping that there will be some additional funding so that it will assist us in incurring the costs associated to the additional equipment and training in regards to this particular regulation," said Conn.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General is seeking public consultation on this proposed regulation until July 26.


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