Coast guard admits police, fire not told of station closure

Vancouver police and fire services were not informed of the sudden closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station on Tuesday, even though both departments had participated in an operational drill with the Coast Guard the day before.
Coast Guard officials say giving advanced notice to emergency responders would have taken focus away from rescue operations. (CBC)

Vancouver police and fire services were not informed of the sudden closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station on Tuesday, even though both departments had participated in an operational drill with the Coast Guard the day before.

The Coast Guard admitted Wednesday it didn't inform the agencies of the imminent shutdown of the station.

"There was no advanced notification, that is correct," Gary Sidock, of the Canadian Coast Guard's western region, acknowledged in an interview with CBC Radio One's On the Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Sidock said informing the departments about the closure would have taken the Coast Guard's focus away from its mandated duties.

"Had we given advance notification, there would've been all kinds of other activities unrelated to the proper planning and co-ordination and management of search and rescue that would've taken place," Sidock said. "We have not asked any agency to take the place of the Canadian Coast Guard."

Sidock was adamant the closure creates no increased risk to the public, but stopped short of saying Vancouver's waters are safer now that the Kitsilano station is closed.

"I'd be hard pressed to say whether they're safer. What I can say is that there is no increased risk to the public, in our view."

'Waterways at risk'

Police and fire department spokesmen say Tuesday's closure caught them by surprise, and both expressed concern about the effect on safety of those on the water.

"The VPD was not given notice of the closure," Const. Brian Montague said in an  email. "We are concerned that with the closure of the Coast Guard station, the duties of our marine unit, which is policing, will have to take on more of a search and rescue role."

Fire Chief John McKearney agreed.

"The announcement [Tuesday] to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard station was a complete surprise," McKearney said in a release. "The temporary seasonal services announced for the harbour are no comparison to the professionally trained and equipped officers of the Coast Guard. This closure has put the safety of our harbour and waterways at risk."

Closure first announced last spring

Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced Tuesday in a notice to mariners that the Kitsilano Canadian Coast Guard Station will no longer offer search and rescue services.

The closure was initially announced last spring as part of budget cuts and drew widespread criticism.

The station responded to about 350 calls a year, and search-and-rescue services will now be handled by the coast guard base at Sea Island, in Richmond, which is 17 nautical miles away.