Ontario's Top Cop Wants
Armed Officers In
Every High School
From Correspondent Steve Harrigan
TORONTO (CP) -- Ontario's solicitor general would like to see an armed and uniformed police officer in every high school in the province.
Bob Runciman, who was responding to questions on the need for more security in schools following recent shootings in Alberta and Colorado, said having police in schools could help save lives. "Getting more police involved in the school system can help to ensure that problems don't occur, perhaps significant problems," he said.
"And if something does happen then you have someone there who can deal with it and is trained to deal with it and in some instances save lives."
An aide to Runciman said Friday the minister was talking about low-key community policing, not the type of high-security police presence being called for by some U.S. officials. "He'd be there to provide education about the consequences of crime, to bridge the gap between police and youth," said Jon Hamilton.
Yet reports on Runciman's call for armed police in Ontario's 827 high schools provoked an angry response from Ontario Premier Mike Harris.
Asked whether he agreed that schools should be permanently policed, Harris denied that Runciman had suggested such a measure. "My solicitor general didn't say that. I know there was an American who indicated that in fact that makes some sense," Harris said Friday during a taping of Global-TV's Focus Ontario. The program airs tonight.
"No, our goal is quite the opposite. It's to teach respect and responsibility and accountability. (To) teach young people there are consequences even when it's minor offences at the beginning. By being a little tougher at the beginning we could perhaps avoid larger problems in the future."
Off camera, the premier challenged Robert Fisher, the host of the show, and angrily stormed off.
Bob Reid, an aide to Harris, said later the premier had understood Fisher to allege Ontario was about to introduce a confrontational style of policing to schools.
While the premier is opposed to that kind of intervention, Reid says Harris favours an expansion of a program being tested in 16 Ontario municipalities that puts "school liaison officers" in district schools.
Although armed and in uniform, these officers do not guard school entrances or patrol hallways with guns at the ready, Reid suggested.
Community policing is a municipal responsibility, but Runciman said he would encourage local jurisdictions to expand the pilot program. "This is certainly an area that I would encourage our municipal partners to be looking at," he said, adding that it would be a good use for the 1,000 police officers recently hired in the province.
Runciman ruled out the prospect of surveillance cameras to track students in Ontario schools, however. "It may come to that -- metal detectors and surveillance cameras -- but I hope not," he said.
"I don't think Canadian society has gotten to that point where we have to do that sort of thing. It's just the whole Big Brother aspect of it that I'm troubled by."