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

Proudly Surrey modifies child-care policy

Slate wants to use school board property for child-care spaces

Surrey school board wants to expand French Immersion program

District had to close program at Cougar Creek Elementary due to low enrolment

VIDEO: Scarecrow festival kicks off in Port Kells

Fourth-annual event will be on until Halloween

Delta to craft whistle-blower policy

The policy is meant to increase public trust and create support for staff in questionable situations

VIDEO: North Delta Studio Stomp back for sixth year

The annual art event has local artists opening their studios to the public this weekend

Lions earn stunning 35-32 OT win over Ticats

Epic comeback lifts B.C. past Hamilton in CFL thriller

Czarnik nets 3 as Flames dump Canucks 5-2

Calgary picks up exhibition win over Vancouver

Ottawa to name new ambassador for women, peace and security, Freeland says

Chrystia Freeland also confirmed Canada would spend about $25 million to fund number of initiatives

‘A little bright spot:’ Ottawa residents rescue dog trapped beneath rubble

Freelance journalist says rescue of a dog trapped under rubble was happy ending amid chaos in Ottawa

B.C. deaf community wants different sign languages on federal accessibility act

Advocates also want Indigenous Sign Language to be recognized on the Indigenous Language Act

Remainder of Vancouver Whitecaps season filled with ‘must-win’ games: coach

With Vancouver currently sitting four points out of a post-season spot, each contest is crucial

VIDEO: B.C.-born firefighter remembered by MP in emotional speech

Family asks first responders to look after one another in wake of suicide, growing concerns of PTSD

Airline has ‘close call’ with drone while en route to B.C. airport

Jazz Aviation reported the drone sighting near Vancouver to the RCMP and Transport Canada

Most Read