Lost-explosives story
spurs Transit Police critic

Training exercise blunder comes to light two years later

by Ian Austin, Vancouver Province, Jan. 21, 2013


Vancouver region transit critic Jordan Bateman
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, tells reporters
Monday that he was shocked to learn the story he had heard was true.
Photo: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press


The shocking case of explosives being left aboard a commercial airplane is further grounds for disbanding the Transit Police, charges the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The CTF filed a freedom-of-information request after hearing of the disturbing tale, when a Transit Police officer took two days to realize he was missing explosives after a dog training exercise aboard a commercial plane in January 2011.

“We have a network of whistleblowers, and this was being talked about in hushed tones,” said Jordan Bateman, the CTF’s B.C. director. “I was pretty shocked to find out the story I heard was true.”

In January 2011 a Transit Police officer was conducting a training exercise at Vancouver International Airport involving a dog searching for explosives planted aboard the Air Canada Boeing 767. The officer didn’t realize until two days later that one the explosives had been left aboard the plane.

The Air Canada plane, by then in Toronto, was searched but nothing was found.

“The vehicle and residence of the dog handlers were checked without success,” reads the 74-page document — much of it blacked out — obtained by the CTF.

One YVR employee told investigators that the explosives had been spotted, and were left on an airplane seat to be thrown out. Nineteen other employees were interviewed, but none could remember what happened to the explosives, which were never found.

Bateman feels the botched exercise and costly search for the missing explosives adds more ammunition to the CTF’s repeated calls to disband the Transit Police.

“These Transit Police officers make on average $100,000 a year, and two-thirds of what they do is checking for fares,” Bateman told The Province. “We’ve handed over $27 million to them, using a sledgehammer to kill a fare-evasion fly.”

SkyTrain will soon be putting up fare gates, making it much more difficult to ride for free, so Bateman presumes the officers are getting other training to justify their lucrative posts.

“Why should they have their own dog unit?” he questioned. “They’re desperately searching for relevance in the post-fare-gate world.”

The Transit Police, the first transit unit in Canada to be armed, was set up in December 2005. The rationale, in part, was to have one unit that was able to cross many jurisdictional boundaries.

“Officers can move up and down the lines,” said Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan. “On the lines and in the stations, we can be there very quickly.”

Drennan said the incident — involving explosives without a detonator to ignite them — has prompted changes to training protocols.

“We don’t use in-service planes any more; we use a retired aircraft at BCIT,” said Drennan, stressing that public safety was never at risk. “Our dogs are trained to national standards, so that calls for training using aircraft.”

Drennan said while the force patrols SkyTrain, SeaBus, West Coast Express and buses for fare evasion, they often have to deal with more serious assaults and robberies. She noted that officers doing fare checks also come across criminals wanted in search warrants.

Shortly after the 2011 incident, the Transit Police instituted a log-book system to ensure all explosives were accounted for, to prevent a repeat performance.

For Bateman, whose organization tries to identify excess government expenditures, it’s just another reason to disband the Transit Police, hire lower-paid security guards, and put the remainder into transit upgrades.

“Take that $27 million, cut it in half, and hire more security guards than they have officers right now,” said Bateman. “Then take the $13 million left over and use it to improve service and pay for upgrades.”

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