Greater Victoria’s tactical team has purchased a new armoured vehicle for $320,635.
While the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team has long been looking to replace the existing vehicle, which is almost 25 years old, one Victoria councillor is concerned the purchase furthers the militarization of Canadian police forces.
The team, an integrated unit operating since 1976, responds to high-risk calls with a threat of a firearm or where containment techniques, negotiation and specialized tactics are necessary. It is using a 1993 armoured truck that was originally designed to transport money from banks and was retrofitted to provide ballistics protection, said Saanich police spokesman Sgt. Jereme Leslie.
It was deployed nine times in 2016, according to the Greater Victoria Police Integrated Units annual report, and an average of seven times a year in the past decade. The tactical team covers Victoria, Esquimalt, Saanich, Oak Bay and Central Saanich, which have agreed on a cost-sharing formula.
Overall in 2016, the GVERT responded to 71 calls, 33 of which were to execute a search warrant.
Nine of those calls were mental health-related, and there were eight calls each relating to a criminal who refused to surrender, a high-risk arrest or suspected explosives. Three calls were related to public event security and two calls involved a hostage situation. The majority of calls — 38 — were in Victoria police’s jurisdiction, followed by 19 calls in Saanich.
The RCMP has its own tactical team for Vancouver Island that responds to RCMP jurisdictions.
The existing armoured vehicle was bought 10 years ago as a short-term solution while money was saved to buy a new model, said Leslie, speaking on behalf of Saanich Insp. Trent Edwards, the officer in charge of the tactical team.
The new armoured vehicle is expected to arrive in spring 2018. About half the cost — $120,000 — will come out of the GVERT’s capital replacement fund, with the remainder borrowed from B.C.’s municipal finance authority.
Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt has concerns about the new vehicle, pointing to the militarization of policing. “I think we need to turn back to more of a community-policing model,” he said.
He said the Canadian Forces or RCMP should be tasked to assist with high-risk calls.
“When a risk reaches a certain level, that responsibility should be assumed by [the Canadian Forces and RCMP], which have substantially more resources” than municipal departments, Isitt said.
Leslie disputes that the armoured vehicle would militarize municipal departments.
“It’s a piece of equipment that’s necessary to keep all the people involved in a critical incident safe,” he said.
An armoured vehicle is designed to withstand bullets and other blasts and can act as a large shield in the event of an active shooter situation, Leslie said.
“I think there’s an expectation that the police can protect the public and that the police can be protected while working in dynamic situations involving firearms.”
The armoured vehicle is being provided by Terradyne Armored Vehicles, which is based in Newmarket, Ont.
The company has provided armoured vehicles to at least nine other police departments across Canada, as well as departments in the Middle East and Africa.
The Gurkha armoured vehicle comes in four models. The emergency response team has purchased the multi-purpose vehicle model, which weighs 7,484 kilograms and has a 6.7-litre V-8 turbo diesel engine.