Investigators have provided greater clarity on the motive in an incident that saw Vancouver police use a beanbag shotgun to subdue a woman allegedly armed with a weapon at B.C. Women’s Hospital on Thursday.
“What we can safely tell you is we are told there were conversations happening between hospital staff and the mother that concerned the welfare of her child and access to the child,” Sgt. Steve Addison said Friday.
“As a result of those conversations, her behaviour escalated to the point where it was extremely volatile and threatening and a danger to not only herself but other very vulnerable people in the hospital.”
Police received multiple 911 calls, including from hospital staff and a social worker, about a woman armed with a knife in the hospital’s maternity ward around 10:30 a.m., Addison said.
Suspect arrested after carrying weapon into BC Women’s Hospital
Police deployed a crisis negotiator and the emergency response team to the scene.
“It was reported to us she had chased a doctor, a doctor had run to safety, had lunged at another staff member,” Addison said. “It was reported to us that staff in hospital were sheltering in rooms, taking shelter in rooms and that staff members had locked themselves in a nursery with a number of babies.”
When officers arrived, the woman was armed with a weapon, but not a knife Addison said. Police are not revealing what she was carrying, save to say that it was an “edged weapon.”
Police then used a beanbag shotgun to subdue the woman and make the arrest. No one was seriously injured, according to the VPD.
Beanbag gun use questioned
The use of “less lethal” beanbag guns has faced increased scrutiny in Vancouver in the wake of the death of a man who was shot multiple times with one on the Downtown Eastside this summer.
The weapon’s use on Thursday has drawn sharp rebuke from several groups including the Pivot Legal Society and Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS).
“It’s horrific. It’s actually horrific to think about a situation where the Vancouver Police Department would arrive at what is essentially a maternity ward and deploy a bean bag round at a mother who’s concerned about the custody of her baby,” BWSS executive director Angela Marie MacDougall told Global News Thursday.
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“It’s actually quite concerning that the Vancouver Police Department decided not to use the de-escalation team that they had deployed, it’s very concerning.”
Police defended the use of the weapon Friday, given the suspect’s violent and agitated state and the threat to vulnerable patients and staff in the hospital.
“We were not going to wait until somebody was killed or somebody was seriously hurt before we acted, this is exactly what we’re trained to do and this is exactly what we did in this case,” Addison said, adding that it was too dangerous for officers to try and restrain the woman with their hands.
Sgt. John Roberts, with the VPD’s tactical training centre and force options training unit, told media Friday that officers are trained to assess, plan and act in a potentially violent situation based on Canada’s national use of force framework.
The threshold to deploy a conducted energy weapon (or Taser), he said, is someone threatening bodily harm to themselves or others, while a beanbag gun can be used when facing “basically an assaultive person.”
In the hospital instance, he said the woman’s actions would have met the higher threshold but that a beanbag gun was the safer option because it could be used from a longer range.
“It’s like an average officer hitting someone as hard as they can with their baton, but the luxury of a beanbag shotgun is you can do it from distance,” he said.
Thursday’s incident has the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU) renewing concerns about violence and safety on the job.
“The nurses were having to barricade themselves with patients in their rooms because they were so fearful for their lives, this person had a weapon,” BCNU president Aman Grewal told Global News.
Grewal said it was the latest incident at the same hospital to traumatize staff, and that just two weeks ago someone had located a loaded handgun in a patient’s room.
“We have security protections at arenas and stadiums, and yet we don’t have any protection for our nurses who are caring for vulnerable patients, babies and women who are in vulnerable positions, who now, these nurses have also been put into such a vulnerable state,” she said.
“Nurses should not have to fear going to work or that they may not come home from work.”
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Grewal said when a violent incident shapes up at a health-care facility, it is usually nurses who are the ones left to physically restrain the person.
The union wants to see “hands-on” security guards at hospitals who are trained and empowered to physically intervene in a crisis situation.
Police say the suspect in Thursday’s incident, a woman in her 30s, was arrested at the scene for possession of a weapon, assault and breach of probation.
She has not been publicly named, but police said they expect to recommend charges at the conclusion of their investigation.
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