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Flashpoint: June 2012

I’ll take Public Safety Canada for $3 million, Alex.”

June 11, 2012
By Peter Sells


I’ll take Public Safety Canada for $3 million, Alex.”

“And the answer is: These programs will no longer receive federal funding as of 2013.”


“What are the Joint Emergency Preparedness Program, the Canadian Emergency Management College and Heavy Urban Search and Rescue task forces?”


I’ve always wanted to be a Jeopardy contestant and now, with the announcement in April that federal JEPP funds will dry up, it appears that we may all be. 

First, for the Jeopardy round, let’s talk about the Canadian Emergency Management College. I attended several courses when the CEMC was still located in Arnprior, Ont., just after the barracks had been closed. We were put up in hotels and bused each day to the college. It was a very functional and well-equipped campus, staffed by amazingly dedicated people. I only wish I had attended earlier and had received the whole barracks experience as well, but the bricks and mortar were progressively neglected by successive governments over decades and had deteriorated beyond hope. Eventually the entire campus was abandoned for a rented location in Ottawa, and now all responsibility has devolved to the provinces. This is what passes for leadership on public safety at the federal level in Canada.

Which brings us to the Double Jeopardy round – JEPP funding. Aside from all of the other worthy projects that will now not be possible with the cancellation of JEPP, funding for Canada’s five heavy urban search and rescue (HUSAR) task forces is now in its final year. I have previously written about the failure of the Canadian government to send our teams to Haiti or Japan. To recap: Toronto’s CAN-TF3 was on exercise when the Haiti earthquake occurred. Since the task force was already assembled, it could have been rapidly deployed if the call had come. Instead, excuses were made that the airport in Haiti was bogged down (true, but CAN-TF3 could have arrived before that) and that the Canadian Forces would have been more appropriate since its members could be self-sufficient on scene (true, but so could CAN-TF3 have been). Canada did not respond to a neighbour in need due to the inability to make a decision and complete ignorance of the capabilities of task forces that received $3 million in federal funds annually. As for Japan, both CAN-TF1 in Vancouver or CAN-TF2 in Calgary were geographically closer to Japan than any of the FEMA teams that responded from the United States (hint – look at a globe, not a map). The United Kingdom teams even found their way to Japan; why not the Canadians – a Pacific neighbour?

There have been deployments, notably CAN-TF3 to Goderich, Ont., after a tornado touched down in August 2011 and CAN-TF1 to Lafayette, La., after Hurricane Katrina. Vancouver’s Katrina response, however, resulted from a local-to-local appeal between members of emergency teams who knew each other from previous training experience. FEMA effectiveness had been crippled by the inept bureaucracy of the newly created Department of Homeland Security, and official Canadian response was days away. CAN-TF1 had responded, spent several days on scene – saving a reported 110 people – and returned to Vancouver before the official Operation UNISON task force of Canadian Forces and Canadian Coast Guard resources left Halifax harbour.

A 2004 report on municipal emergency preparedness and management costs for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities stated that “the federal aims and objectives of this program (HUSAR) are not well understood by the municipalities. Municipalities also do not understand how to access this capability or for what other municipal purposes the teams may be available.” I submit that the reverse is closer to the truth, based on events of the last decade. It was municipal initiative that started the development of HUSAR teams, not federal planning after 9-11. Vancouver started development of its team in 1995, for example. The reality is that federal vision has been sadly lacking, and the willingness to implement operations has been out of harmony with the willingness to fund the five task forces.

The April release announcing the cuts stated that “these changes are expected to result in a leaner, more efficient and effective federal government engaged in the delivery of its core business areas, which these two programs (CEMC and JEPP) are outside of. Public Safety Canada remains committed to ensuring a safe and resilient Canada and to the security of Canadians and their communities.”

Seriously? The only solace I can take is that, as a taxpayer, my money will no longer be spent on programs for which there is no apparent federal will or purpose. Operations are now in step with vision. It’s just a shame that it is the wrong vision.

Retired District Chief Peter Sells writes, speaks and consults on fire service management and professional development across North America and internationally. He holds a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Windsor. He sits on the advisory councils of the Ontario Fire College and the Institution of Fire Engineers, Canada branch. Contact him at

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