Preventing attacks where vehicles are used as weapons is difficult, but certain urban design measures might help avert them, an expert says.
Two people died and nine others were injured in the Quebec town of Amqui on Monday after being run down by a pickup truck. Police alleged the driver drove into pedestrians chosen at random, including children.
Alex Wilner, who teaches international affairs at Carleton University and has expertise on security issues, said certain streetscaping measures can help prevent vehicular access to sidewalks and other areas where pedestrians congregate.
Those include elevating roadside curbs, setting up bulwarks, making more use of pedestrian bridges and creating divisions between bicycle lanes, jogging lanes and roads, he said.
Such measures have been implemented in some urban settings, including in parts of Toronto and Ottawa, Wilner said, but divisions between roadways and pedestrian walkways can be almost nonexistent in smaller communities, like Amqui.
“I think the focus of our efforts to combat this has been in major urban areas, which makes sense to impede access to major events like parades in downtown areas or major walkways,” Wilner said in an interview.
“But for the large part those defenses were not implemented as widespread in rural areas or in suburban areas.”
Vehicles used in attacks, though they can be as deadly as explosives and guns, are easy to rent and buy, Wilner said, making such cases hard to prevent.
“It is far easier to get your hands on a vehicle than it is on an explosive device, and it can be just as effective in creating damage,” Wilner said.
“That is the problem we have in trying to tackle its use, and I don’t think there is an easy solution.”
François Bonnardel, Quebec’s public security minister, said Tuesday that the government would try to learn lessons from what happened in Amqui to help prevent future tragedies, but it’s hard to fully eliminate all possibility of an isolated attack.
“This murderous folly is hard to prevent,” he said. “We can put everything in place, and then tomorrow morning someone can decide once again to get into a car, into a truck, and strike.”
The driver of the pickup truck in the Amqui case has been charged with dangerous driving causing death and the Crown has said more charges would undoubtedly follow once all the evidence is gathered.
Bonnardel said it is too soon to say what may have motivated the Amqui driver.
The tragedy in Amqui came not long after a school bus crashed into a daycare in Laval, Que., in February, leaving two young children dead and six wounded. A driver with the Laval transit corporation has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and seven other offences in that case.
In 2021, five members of a Muslim family who were out for a walk during a warm summer evening were hit by a pickup truck in London, Ont. Four died and one was seriously injured. A man charged in that case faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in what prosecutors allege was an act of terrorism.
In Toronto, ten people were killed after a man deliberately drove a rental van down a busy sidewalk in April 2018. Three years late, another person died from the injuries sustained in the attack. The van’s driver was found guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder
Wilner, of Carleton University, said pedestrians should try to be aware of their surroundings.
“I remember personally walking in Toronto after the van attack that I would walk differently. I would look for areas where I could escape to if needed quickly,” he said.
“Being aware of your situation, perhaps walking around without staring at your screen can help save lives.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2023.