Security push for Canada 150 celebrations in Victoria

Hundreds of police officers will be deployed across Greater Victoria during Spirit of 150 events in Victoria, which begin on Wednesday and run until Canada Day.

It has become the norm for a heightened police presence at large-scale events, as a reaction to terror attacks in Boston, Berlin, Nice and most recently London. An estimated 50,000 people are expected to gather at the Inner Harbour on Canada Day alone for live music and fireworks.

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In Victoria, measures include temporary surveillance cameras in public spaces on June 30 and July 1, a tactic the Victoria Police Department has used in the past to assist with criminal investigations. Officers will monitor live video to help deploy resources where they are needed.

Victoria police spokesman Const. Matt Rutherford said the cameras, to be taken down after Canada Day, will be used in compliance with the B.C. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The department is reviving the hashtag #vicpdhelps on the evenings of June 30 and July 1 for people to report non-emergency incidents such as fights, vandalism or public drunkenness. People are encouraged to call 911 for emergencies.

Officers from Saanich, Central Saanich and Oak Bay will be downtown to assist Victoria police with crowd control and enforcement.

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said in a statement that the department has been planning for several months to ensure Spirit of 150 Victoria events are safe.

Victoria police would not say how many officers and reserve constables will be deployed. In the past, about 200 officers have been stationed around downtown on Canada Day, including officers working at roadblocks to nab drunk drivers.

“While we don’t discuss our specific operational plans for events, VicPD continues to monitor the various incidents that have recently occurred around the world; we are confident in our security plan for the Spirit of 150 events,” Rutherford said in an email.

In Nice, Berlin and most recently London, terrorists have used vehicles to plow into crowds of people, killing indiscriminately.

With Canada’s 150th birthday events taking place across the country, it’s important to find the right balance between celebration and security, said Cpl. Tammy Douglas, spokeswoman for Island district RCMP.

Douglas said the RCMP is not aware of threats against Canada Day celebrations, but continues to be vigilant.

The local police jurisdiction, in this case Victoria police, has the prime responsibility for security at each event, she said, but information is shared with the RCMP to determine if “specialized support services” are needed, based on the size and location of the event. The Mounties asked that any suspicious activity be reported to police.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Victoria police use “intelligence-led” policing to proactively deal with potential security risks.

“VicPD and all the officers coming down take any big gathering seriously, be it Canada Day, a marathon or Remembrance Day,” Helps said. “We have all sorts of protocols in place to make sure people are safe and that’s no different for this year’s events.”

Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie said the department will ensure extra staff is on duty to handle calls for service.

West Shore RCMP said it is in discussions with Victoria police regarding resources, but spokesman Const. Alex Bérubé could not say if West Shore members will be stationed in Victoria. Sidney/North Saanich RCMP will not be sending officers to Victoria, but spokesman Cpl. Chris Manseau said Mounties will be stationed around bus stops heading to Victoria to ensure passengers aren’t carrying open alcohol.

Officers with the Integrated Road Safety Unit will be stationed across Greater Victoria on June 30 and July 1, setting up roadblocks and searching for impaired drivers, said Staff Sgt. Ron Cronk.

The roadblocks will continue on July 2 for the Light up the Highway enforcement campaign, which kicks off the province-wide summer road-safety blitz. “There’s three days where IRSU won’t sleep,” Cronk said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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