10 March 2019

Canadian police are very good at NOT shooting people:
A Conversation with Darren Laur

by Mary Fernando

Like the rest of the world, I watched the events that unfolded in Toronto in April of 2018.

“There has been worldwide amazement that Toronto Police did not shoot the suspect in Monday’s vehicular attack.

He had left a street strewn with bodies and was wielding an object that he claimed was a firearm. Nevertheless, Const. Ken Lam not only arrested him without using lethal force, but did it without waiting for backup.

Seven months ago, when a 30-year-old man perpetrated a similar vehicular attack in downtown Edmonton — which injured four, in addition to the stabbing of a police officer — he too was apprehended without a single shot being fired.

Both events speak to a pattern: Canadian police are very good at not shooting people.

“Policing in Canada is not policing in America … the police in Canada use force with incredible infrequency,” said Joel Johnston, a veteran Vancouver Police officer and former use-of-force co-ordinator for the province of British Columbia.

The statistics back this up: The rate of police shooting in Canada is 11 times lower than in the U.S.

Another account of the incident in Toronto of April 2018:  “From the video, it appears the suspect was yelling for the police officer to shoot him. He dropped his arm to his side and brought it back up again as if pointing a weapon at the police officer. Again, it was not a typical shooting stance. This officer clearly had de-escalation in mind. He recognized his car siren was on and went back to turn it off. This shows that he did not have tunnel vision or hearing. With the siren off, clearer communications were possible.

With a good visual of the subject, the actions of the suspect, his calls to be shot and the artificial manner in which he was standing and threatening, the police officer clearly made a decision that the use of deadly force, while authorized, was not immediately needed.”



This story fascinated me and brought up a lot of questions. Why are Canadian police so good at not shooting people? So, when I was interviewing Darren Laur, a 30 year veteran of the Victoria police force, I asked him why Canadian police are so good at not shooting people. 


His answer surprised me: “My best weapon is tongue-fu”

“If I can get them to talk, in most cases I can get them to walk,” says Darren. “Unfortunately in some rare cases officers may have to resort to using deadly force to protect themselves and/or other form death or grievous bodily injury. However, what makes Canadian policing stand out is our humanistic approach. I spent most of my career in the downtown city core of Victoria where I built rapport so I could de-escalate situations.”

Instead of looking at the rougher inhabitants of the street as potential problems, he always saw them as people. Darren explains, “I have never met a drug addict who said ‘I want to be a drug addict for the rest of my life.’  They all got there somehow and I like to get to know them.”

This is the core of the humanistic approach: everyone was once young and full of dreams. They got to where they are by taking a path they hadn’t envisioned.


There are a few interesting facts about the Canadian police that also help explain some differences from the police force in the United Staes. First, the “biggest difference between American and Canadian police is that Canadian police enact the single Canadian federal criminal code, whereas in the United States different states have their own criminal code, which in some cases differs from the American federal criminal code. In Canada the enforcement of the federal criminal code is the same throughout all provinces and territories. Therefore police training, police practices, and investigative policies are standardized regardless of a police officer’s location in the country.”

Finally, police in Canada are public servants and “Americans are used to hearing about a "police force" being called out to deal with an emergency, catch a robber or track a suspect. Canadians, however, are protected by a "police service."


Perhaps the best summary of what happened was the now famous tweet by Inspector Chris Boddy of the Toronto Police:

9 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

I can picture that area of Edmonton.

In the next town north of Orlando, an upset boy waved a toy guy around his school. The Seminole County Sheriff's office mobilized at the middle school / high school. Parents and friends tried telling authorities the gun was a toy, that the boy didn't have access to firearms. The Sheriff's Department didn't listen. A sniper took out the boy, killed him on school grounds.

I found myself doubly shocked, partly because their first action seemed to be shoot first and question later, and then because everyone seemed to think the department was correct in giving the shoot-to-kill order. People kept saying, "But the boy had a gun. You couldn't believe his family. The kid could have killed the deputies." Even had the toy pistol been real, it would have been no match in power, distance, or accuracy for a sniper rifle, or much of a challenge for body armor. I can't imagine how the parents have suffered and what ill effects the incident might have had on the shiper.

Leigh Lundin said...

Another facet has troubled me for a long time. A few decades ago, American police began using military terms, in particular setting themselves apart from citizens by referring to them as civilians. It hasn't helped that the federal government has made military weapons and vehicles available to departments, implying armed martial law could happen at any moments.

Mary, you might develop a series character from this, a Canadian McCloud perhaps with a touch of Billy Jack: A Canadian officer takes a policing job here in the states and shows there can be a different way.

janice law said...

I like the implications of "police service". We have cultivated an adversarial stance too long. Of course, our weaponed up citizenry doesn't help either.

mary fernando said...

Leigh - Such a troubling and sad story. The poor child. Poor family.
Interesting idea about Canadians in the United States. When I was researching, I saw an article about the LAPD getting training from Canadian police officers. Darren has travelled to the U.S. to train police if I'm not mistaken. I love the idea of a story. As you know, I'm in the midst of both tragedy and stress and I worry I won't write again. Sigh.

Janice - I agree the idea of service is crucial. Not to say that there aren't citizens with fear of the police but most of us were raised to think of them as friends. And yes, absolutely, the amount of weapons citizens have is an issue. However, we are finding far more criminals do now have guns in Canada.

O'Neil De Noux said...

I was a cop most of my life. Retired now. I've written about 'good shootings' often. When an officer's use of dealy force is justifiable homicide. I've pointed out in some of my fiction when it was not a good shooting.

Trained in the 1970s to be a peace officer, when I returned to law enforcement in the 21st Century I found we were no longer peace officers, but a police force. Violence brings more violence. We went from an officer using deadly force to prevent the loss of life or to prevent someone receiving great bodily harm to 'I was afraid he/she might hurt me' to 'I thought he had a gun'. It's a thin, deadly line to cross.

In his poem AMERICA IS A GUN, Brian Bilston writes:

"England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun."

He goes on to compare other countries (not Canada) but every stanza ends with "America is a gun." Like a good poet, Bilston gives is something to think about.


Eve Fisher said...

I agree with everyone that "police service" implies an entirely different approach than does "police force". Sadly, in America, the Western/gun culture has taken over to the point where today it seems that "feeling" afraid means you have to/have the right to kill the person who's "making" you afraid.

Melodie Campbell said...

A wonderful and courageous post, Mary. I've long thought that our attitude and history in Canada is very different from my friends' in the States. I think it stems from the motto that has long been ours: Peace, order, and good government. I like that peace is the first thing spoken. I always go back to the origins of Canada: you can fight all you want in the summer, but come October, we better work together to get that harvest in and the wood chopped, or we're all going to freeze.

Anne Curry said...

I love O'Neil's poem, I'd almost forgot it. Even the term officers of the peace implies something quite different than the institution of today.

I'm sorry to hear about your personal tragedy, Mary. Sometimes hurt brings out the creative muse. My best to you.

Lawrence Maddox said...

Thanks Mary for a terrific piece.
I used to be a big fan of the show Cops. It seems when the show started in 80s, officers were much more willing to engage verbally with suspects longer than they did in the later years of the show. Anyway, the Canadians are setting a great example.