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

Over-budget bids cause delay of four Surrey school projects

Two projects have gone back out to tender, two awaiting ‘revised budget approval’ from Ministry of Education

Fees ensure patients have access to parking at SMH, FHA says

Fraser Health Authority hasn’t heard yet from city hall about pay parking at Surrey hospital

Free hospital parking a non-starter in White Rock

City considering task force to look at parking generally – Walker

Surrey memories: How the ‘IGUISBCSIR’ Facebook page became a hub for anecdotal history

Former Whalley resident Wes Mussato launched the group in 2011, 11 years after he’d moved to Ontario

VIDEO: B.C. legislature clerk, sergeant at arms suspended for criminal investigation

Clerk of the House Craig James, Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz on administrative leave

Former NHL player and coach Dan Maloney dies at 68

Maloney coached the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets

Ex-MSU president charged with lying to police about Nassar

Lou Anna Simon was charged Tuesday with lying to police during an investigation

Police aim to prevent retaliation after Hells Angel found dead under B.C. bridge

IHIT confirms Chad Wilson, 43, was the victim of a ‘targeted’ homicide

Otter makes a snack out of koi fish in Vancouver Chinese garden

Staff say the otter has eaten at least five fish

Police looking into two more incidents at private Toronto all-boys’ school

Police and the school have said two of the prior incidents involved an alleged sexual assault

B.C. lumber mills struggle with shortage of logs, price slump

Signs of recovery after U.S. market swings, industry executive says

25% of Canadians still won’t say they use pot, survey says

Statistics Canada poll says Canadians on average were 18.9 years old when they first tried pot.

Canucks’ 50/50 jackpot expected to surpass $1 million

The guaranteed prize for one lucky winner will be $500,000 minimum when Vancouver hosts LA Nov 27

Most Read