The RCMP pays $10 million a year in rent for its headquarters on Garland Avenue in Dartmouth, but much of the building remains unused. Photo: Halifax Examiner. Credit: Tim Bousquet

The current RCMP leadership is “more interested in real estate than public safety,” claims former Colchester-Cumberland MP Bill Casey. He believes that because of the non-answer he received last month to his federal Access To Information request about where a new Operations Communications Centre should be located in Nova Scotia. He’s convinced the upper echelons of the RCMP are intent on avoiding public scrutiny.

Casey is one of many urging the federal and provincial governments to immediately call a public inquiry into the mass shooting that killed 22 Nova Scotians in April. In particular, he no longer trusts RCMP management with decisions related to the training officers receive or the communications which local police and the public receive during an emergency. 

Casey filed his Access to Information Request more than a year ago, in June 2019. He was trying to find the reason why an internal RCMP report in 2017 overturned the recommendation of a 2004 expert panel report that examined where to locate a new RCMP Operations Communications Centre that handles “911” calls. 

The present RCMP Communications Centre is in Truro, but the building has health and safety issues. A separate Operations Communications Centre – which also assigns first responders to “911” calls — is operated by the Halifax Regional Police in a building near the Dartmouth General Hospital.

RCMP fails to answer question

The 2004 study mentioned above recommended that the RCMP’s next Operations Communications Centre be located anywhere except Dartmouth to ensure “geographical separation” between the 911 response systems run by the Halifax Regional Police and the Nova Scotia RCMP. Both answer calls from all over the province and dispatch help, backing each other up. 

Geographical separation for emergency communications systems is recommended by agencies such as Canada’s National Fire Protection Association and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Measures Association in the U.S.). 

The 91-page 2004 external study for the RCMP noted:

While terrorism and eco-disasters have always been part of considering where to locate important infrastructure facilities (e.g. police communications centres), the events of 9/11, Hurricane Juan, etc. have heightened awareness of the importance of site selection considerations. Halifax is no stranger to the affects (sic) of mass casualty events; in 1917, the Halifax Explosion laid waste to the city. These events are illustrative that police, military, and governance leaders must give serious consideration to the location of facilities such as police communications centres.

More recently, Halifax Regional Council declared a “climate emergency” in 2019. Forecasts of more frequent, more violent storms leading to millions of dollars in property damage underlined the importance of where not to locate critical infrastructure.

That municipal declaration came after an internal 2017 report prepared by and for the RCMP. It recommended locating the RCMP’s Operational Communication Centre in the recently-built RCMP headquarters on Garland Avenue in Dartmouth’s Burnside Industrial Park. The Mounties are paying rent of $10 million a year to Public Works for a building which still has lots of vacant space. Establishing the Communications Centre as a tenant would alleviate much of that financial strain. The current RCMP plan is to move in sometime in 2021.

The only obstacle was the aforementioned policy guidelines which Emergency Measures organizations such as national fire chiefs and FEMA had recommended. Those guidelines insist on separate locations to prevent a catastrophic storm (or, to mention a particular hazard in HRM, a potential explosion at DND’s munitions depot on Magazine Hill) from knocking out both communications systems. 

In response to that concern, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s “H” Division says portable communications equipment has been stationed at a location outside HRM in the Annapolis Valley that can be activated in a hour if the other Operations Centres go down. 

But that doesn’t make sense to Bill Casey. In June, 2019 he filed an Access to Information request to ask for any government documents that could provide a reason or an explanation for why the RCMP’s 2017 report ignored the recommendation of the earlier 2004 report. Here’s the one sentence in the 2017 report that dismisses the findings in the 2004 report:

Security risks outlined in the 2004 Report have since been assessed by RCMP Departmental Security and are no longer a risk to relocating to the Halifax Region.

Casey wasn’t buying the “no longer a risk” argument. So in June 2019 he asked the federal government to provide the supporting reasons or the evidence for the decision by RCMP Departmental Security. Here is the response he received a year later, in June 2020.

 The RCMP is not in possession of a Departmental Security Report that analyses the risks outlined in the 2004 study that explains why these risks are no longer applicable.

Casey cried foul. “The RCMP has no assessment, no data or research that explains or supports that statement. My point is that if warnings in a detailed RCMP study on the safety of the Nova Scotia emergency communications systems are to be overruled, there should be some explanation, some report, or details to say how the listed risks have evaporated.” 

Casey suggests the RCMP might be tempted to apply similar reasoning to the April mass shootings. “If the inquiry into the April shootings is not a public inquiry, the conclusions could be just as wrong as ‘the risks are no longer applicable’,” Casey argues.  “If it is not public, we will only see what officials want us to see.”

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. This is Risk Management 101. Unbelievable. Ask banks if they would locate their fail-safe computer systems in the same building / block / electrical grid as their primary. Come on.