OTTAWA — City police officers patrolling the airport in the nation’s capital are getting military-style rifles, but officials say the move wasn’t prompted by any specific security threats.
Rather, police say, the issuance of carbine rifles to officers at Ottawa International Airport will simply provide a higher degree of safety for travellers.
The move comes as Ottawa prepares for a colossal Canada Day celebration, with officials predicting upwards of 450,000 people could descend on Parliament Hill and other venues in the capital.
It also comes a day after a Montreal man allegedly stabbed a police officer in the neck at the airport in Flint, Mich., an incident which authorities have labelled a terrorist attack.
Ottawa police say they have ordered every officer not scheduled for annual leave to be on duty July 1.
Officials say that day will see a massive, integrated, security operation — the largest in the city’s history — to protect crowds gathered in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, along with the prime minister and Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.
The rifles are a preventive measure, the police said Thursday
“In today’s climate, this additional piece of equipment allows us to continue to be prepared and respond to events that may affect the safety and security of our community and travellers to Ottawa,” Ottawa Police Staff Sergeant Atallah Sadaka said.
“This is a preventive and proactive measure, and not indicative of any intelligence or threat,” Sadaka added.
The semi-automatic rifles are being issued immediately, police said.
Extensive road closures, stretching out several more blocks than usual, are planned for around Parliament Hill beginning June 30.
And although officials aren’t saying what specific security measures they’re taking for the Canada Day, large cement barricades and dump trucks filled with sand are expected to be used to block key intersections to prevent vehicles from ramming into crowds, as has happened recently during festivities in France and the U.K.
RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson has come under heavy criticism, particularly from his own officers, after testifying last week that he didn’t believe carbine rifles would have made a difference in protecting first responders who were gunned down in a deadly shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B. in 2014.
Three Moncton Mounties were killed and two others wounded in the shooting.
Their killer, Justin Bourque, was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, while the responding RCMP officers carried pistols.
Paulson testified at a trial in Moncton where the national police force is charged with violating the Labour Code for allegedly failing to provide its Moncton officers with appropriate use-of-force equipment and training for responding to an active threat or shooting event.
Carbines are short-barrelled, semi-automatic rifles that are more accurate and have a longer range than pistols or shotguns.
The Ottawa Police Service has had carbines in limited use since 2006, but had not until now issued them to officers at the airport.
— Follow @tpedwell on Twitter
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press