Beanbag gun used on weapon-wielding patient at B.C. Women’s Hospital, say Vancouver police

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An investigation is underway after a patient, allegedly armed with a knife or a similar weapon, chased a doctor and staff member at B.C. Women’s Hospital and tried to access a locked nursery as staff hid to protect themselves, according to Vancouver police.

Sgt. Steve Addison said 911 calls started coming in around 10:30 a.m. PT Thursday from staff and a social worker who were fearful of the woman. The woman’s child is also a patient at the hospital.

They said a beanbag gun was used to shoot the woman, who is in her 30s. They later took her into custody. 

Addison said police were initially told the woman had a knife, but when officers arrived she was holding a different weapon and was not co-operative.

“I can tell you it was a dangerous weapon, an edged weapon,” said Addison. “We haven’t said what that weapon is. We are deliberately withholding that for evidentiary reasons, for the integrity of the investigation.”

The incident unfolded after some conversations at the hospital about potentially restricting access to the woman’s child and getting the Children’s Ministry involved, said Addison.

The VPD took the unusual step of posting a long twitter thread about the police response.

But a women’s advocate criticized the VPD’s actions as inflaming what was a clearly difficult situation for the woman.

“The Vancouver police have stepped back on their position somewhat, and even on whether it was a knife,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of the Battered Women’s Support Services.

“Their initial response was not helpful and reinforced a lot of stigma.”

‘She wanted her baby’

“[The police] made it seem that there was this random woman being violent, and being violent toward everybody in the space when we clearly see that this was a mother who had been given bad news about the removal of her child and she wanted her baby,” said MacDougall. 

Addison said the woman may face charges, including possession of a knife, assault and breach of probation. She was treated at the hospital for a minor injury to her lower body, he said.

“The use of the beanbag shotgun was in this case exactly what it was designed for … and helped us resolve a very tense and volatile and dangerous situation safely without any injury to public, staff, babies or her,” said Addison.

Sgt. John Roberts of the Vancouver Police Department shows the contents of a beanbag cartridge. Police used a beanbag gun to shoot a woman who was wielding a weapon at B.C. Women’s Hospital Thursday morning. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Vancouver Police have faced scrutiny recently after a man they shot with a beanbag gun on the Downtown Eastside died. Police have defended using beanbag guns as a “less lethal” way to subdue a suspect.

Addison said the VPD’s response at Women’s Hospital was justified due to the seriousness of the situation, which he compared to school shootings in the U.S., like Uvalde and Sandy Hook. 

“We were not going to wait until somebody was killed or somebody was seriously hurt before we acted,” he said.

“A person with a knife or a gun or a deadly weapon inside an institutional setting and putting vulnerable people at risk, in a situation like that we are trained to move immediately to encounter the threat.”

VPD Sgt. John Rogers said the impact of a beanbag gun is similar to an average officer hitting someone as hard as they can with a baton.

“The luxury of a beanbag shotgun is that you can do it from a distance. And the benefit of distance is that it gives officers the chance to plan, act and assess,” he said. 

In a statement, the Provincial Health Services Authority said it wanted to reassure the public that the issue was contained.

“Our campus continues to be safe and secure for patients, their families and staff and visitors,” reads the statement. “No one was seriously hurt.”

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