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

Maskwacis and feds sign historic education agreement

The Maskwacis Education School Commission signed an agreement setting the stage for their education

UPDATE: Puppies rescued at structure fire in Lacombe

The Bentley Fire Department assisted Lacombe in a structure fire where crews saved some puppies

Trial for man accused of 2006 Eckville murder “unreasonably delayed”

Lacombe’s Shayne Gulka is awaiting trial for the 2006 murder of Bradley Webber

Producers are already charging customers for recycle services

Fixed recycle fees are built-in to packaging rates by producers across the country.

Bringing composting to Ponoka is a simple step

For $2 extra per month, Ponoka residents can see compost collections

VIDEO: Canadians rise for early-morning Royal wedding celebrations

Canadians gathered for early-morning broadcast of marriage between Meghan Markle, Prince Harry

Las Vegas Golden Knights move on to Stanley Cup final

Improbable run continues for NHL’s newest expansion team

Oregon’s flooded recreational pot market a cautionary tale to B.C.

‘In a broader sense, we are adding legal production to an already robust illegal production’

3 survivors after airliner with 110 aboard crashes in Cuba

It was Cuba’s worst aviation disaster in three decades and its third major air accident since 2010

Individuals face 84 criminal charges related to stolen, counterfeit credit cards

Investigation and search warrant executed collaboratively by Red Deer and Sylvan Lake RCMP

Plane with 104 on board crashes on takeoff in Cuba

Boeing 737 operated by state airline Cubana crashed on takeoff from Jose Marti International Airport

UPDATED: Gunman opens fire in Texas high school, killing up to 10

Santa Fe High School which went on lockdown around 8 a.m. Friday

Coroner speaks about mix-up of Humboldt Broncos crash victims, release of name

A coroner involved says it wasn’t until an injured player woke up in hospital and said he was a different person that officials realized the mistake

‘Nowhere near close:’ U.S. rebuffs Trudeau hope for quick NAFTA deal

The United States declared the NAFTA countries were nowhere close to a deal in a statement Thursday

Most Read