Turning vehicles into deadly weapons is easy and cheap, expert says

Not all recent vehicle attacks have been linked to terror groups, says Candyce Kelshall

Preventing people from using vehicles as deadly weapons is a difficult task for law enforcement officials, experts say.

Cars, trucks and vans have been used to ram people more than a dozen times around the world in recent years, often with deadly results similar to those in northern Toronto on Monday.

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Monday night what happened does not appear to be connected to national security, but he called the incident a “horrific attack.”

Not all recent vehicle attacks have been linked to terror groups, says Candyce Kelshall, an adjunct professor with the terrorism, risk and security studies program at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

She says there have been at least three incidents in Germany in recent years where people have driven cars into groups or buildings, but did not have any connection with Islamic State militants or other terrorist organizations.

Regardless of the motive, it’s tough to stop someone from using a vehicle to kill, Kelshall says.

READ MORE: Toronto van attack suspect faces 10 counts of first-degree murder

READ MORE: Officer’s actions ‘one shining moment’ after Toronto van attack

“You can’t stop people driving cars or walking on streets,” she says. “It’s a difficult to thing to police.”

Vehicles are a popular weapon because they’re accessible, says Alex Wilner, an assistant professor with Carleton University’s Norman Paterson school of international affairs in Ottawa.

“It’s deadly, it’s easy and it’s cheap. So, if you put the math together, it doesn’t take a lot to kill people,” he says.

Cities are increasingly looking for ways to place barriers between vehicles and pedestrians, Wilner says.

In some places, garbage and fire trucks are being put in place at entrances to festivals or markets, he adds.

Similar safety measures were in effect in Toronto on Monday night, with streets closed near the Air Canada Centre where the Maple Leafs were playing an NHL playoff game.

Wilner says several vehicles used in recent attacks have been rentals and there may be some appetite for creating a registry to help prevent similar occurrences. What a registry or database would look like is unclear, he adds.

Mubin Shaikh, an expert on counterterrorism, says he thinks a no rental list would be a reactive measure that would have minimal impact.

If there are restrictions on rentals, people can still borrow or steal vehicles, he notes.

“A criminal will try to take whatever they can, however they can,” he says.

“Will it deter the determined attacker? Probably not.”

Shaikh, who is from Toronto, said he heard about Monday’s tragedy after landing at an air force base in Germany where he was scheduled to give a briefing on attacks using vehicles.

“Unfortunately, this is the reality in which we live nowadays,” he said, adding that he’s become hyper-vigilant when walking down the street and is constantly looking for cement planters or pillars that he could hide behind if a vehicle jumps the curb.

“At the end of the day, it’s impossible (to prevent). We live in an open society and vehicles are in our proximity all the time. That’s normal city life.”

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

LNG Canada support far outweighs protests, CEO says

Andy Calitz vows completion on schedule at B.C. Natural Resource Forum

B.C. chiefs show solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs

Chiefs from around B.C. outside the Coastal GasLink pipeline route in Smithers show support.

Woman killed in head-on crash near Vanderhoof

RCMP say driver crossed the centre line and hit a loaded fuel tanker truck

‘Tripod’ delays access to Unist’ot’en camp

Social media rumours of cultural significance quashed, meaning police “exclusion zones” should end.

Hereditary chiefs negotiate injunction agreement

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs abide by interim injunction, but gate stays up. Still opposed.

Canada’s archive buys rare book that hints at Nazi plans for North America

The 1944 book may have served as a blueprint for a Nazi purge

Teravainen’s 3 points lift Hurricanes to 5-2 win over Canucks

Vancouver heads into all-star break on losing note

47 men arrested by Vancouver police for allegedly seeking sex with teenage girls

Seven of those arrested have been charged as part of a two-month operation

B.C. hospital apologizes for veteran’s five-day hallway stay

Clinical director of Victoria General Hospital says case of retired veteran ‘definitely excessive’

Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

‘Dr. Lipjob’ avoids jail, gets 30-day suspended sentence

She will have to serve the 30 days in prison if she commits a breach during her two-year’s probation

Ex-Mountie involved in Taser death at Vancouver airport sues government

Kwesi Millington claims he acted in accordance with RCMP training

LETTER: Seniors home care, day programs expanding, Adrian Dix says

B.C. health minister responds to latest Seniors Advocate report

Most Read