Mayor blasts police purchase of new armoured vehicle as 'tone deaf'

A decision was made at Edmonton police commission two years ago behind closed doors to buy a $500,000 armoured vehicle. The mayor calls it 'tone-deaf' but the chief defends the purchase.

New $500,000 vehicle will arrive in Edmonton in two weeks

The $500,000 armoured vehicle model purchased two years ago by Edmonton police. (Cambli Group/Facebook)

The purchase two years ago of another armoured vehicle for Edmonton police was "remarkably tone deaf," the mayor says.

"I'm not convinced that this is a reasonable expenditure, since they already have two," Don Iveson said in an exclusive interview.

The mayor was unaware when he spoke to CBC News that the new $500,000 Cambli Black Wolf would replace the 1978 vintage "Grizzly" that was donated in 2007 by the Department of National Defence.  

Edmonton police will continue to use the Ballistic Armoured Tactical Transport vehicle that was purchased new in 2013 for $315,000. 

The chair of the Edmonton police commission agreed the optics of buying a new armoured vehicle "are not particularly positive" given today's political climate.

'There would have been more questions'

"I can honestly tell you that if this had come to the attention of the commission anytime since any of the recent events happened, I can promise you there would have been a lot more questions," Micki Ruth said. "It was 2017 and none of this was happening."  

The new vehicle was first requested during an in-camera police commission meeting in 2017, she said, and approved behind closed doors in 2018. 

The mayor said council was never made aware the $500,000 acquisition had been approved. 

Ruth said the commission will review what happened.

Chief Dale McFee, who was hired after the decision was made, said he believes it's important to be transparent about spending taxpayers' money. 

"This should not be hidden in any way, shape or form," he said.

The 1978 "Grizzly" was donated to EPS in 2007 by the Department of National Defence. (CBC)

On Thursday, EPS spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said the police service originally planned to wait until the vehicle arrived in two weeks before formally announcing the purchase. 

The purchase was never spelled out in the city's capital budgets.

"In none of our reports was this specific purchase detailed," Iveson said. "That's within the delegated authority of the police commission and the police service." 

Iveson said council approved a budget for vehicles, but it was not broken down into specific items. 

"It is clear to me that city council is going to have to do a line-by-line scrutiny of those equipment budgets from here on until the message is clear," he said. 

Criminal defence lawyer Tom Engel said he was shocked to hear council wasn't going through the police budget line by line already. 

"I would have thought that's what they were doing," he said.

Engel, who also heads the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association policing committee, said he's concerned about what he called the increased militarization of police. 

"Building a new gun range, creating another tactical unit, building a new canine facility," Engel said. "In these times where it's very clear that you should be diverting money from the EPS budget into other ways of handling the problems that they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, it's just unacceptable." 

Edmonton police chief Dale McFee defends the purchase of a new armoured vehicle. (David Bajer/CBC)

The chief said violent crime and social issues must be dealt with using different approaches.

"I think it's time that we start to differentiate the difference between a city that has one of the highest violent crime rates for many, many years and a city that has disproportionate social issues for many, many years, and realize it's not the same solution for both of them," McFee said.

He pointed to an increase in gun calls and the importance of safety for the public and his officers. 

The chief said he understands the decision to buy an armoured vehicle in the current climate will be closely scrutinized. 

"But at the same time, I don't think I should be making decisions for safety based on public opinion," McFee said. 

Armoured vehicles would not be used during protests, he said, as has been witnessed south of the border.

Edmonton will have two armoured vehicles 

A CBC investigation that looked at Canada's 10 most populated cities showed Edmonton is one of the few that will have two in-service armoured vehicles. 

When Calgary police purchased a new $500,000 armoured vehicle in April 2019, they said the old one would be used until officers were trained on the new one, then it would be decommissioned. 

McFee said Edmonton plans to keep two in use in case one breaks down. 

The chief said he received a text message that indicated the Toronto Police Service currently has two armoured vehicles. CBC News was unable to get confirmation from Toronto police. 

In February 2020, an Ontario Contractors association planned to donate $275,000 to the Toronto Police Service for the purchase of a second vehicle. The offer was withdrawn following public backlash.

In June 2020, Halifax city council cancelled a $368,000 contract for the purchase of a new armoured vehicle in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. 

"Obviously if Toronto doesn't see the need to take a free one, that speaks volumes," Engel said. "And Halifax cancelling the thing, that was the right thing to do." 

Iveson was asked if city council had the power to cancel the contract.

The EPS tactical unit will continue to use this armoured vehicle purchased in 2013. (CBC)

"It may already be in the works under the delegated authority of the commission and the service," Iveson said. "We'll have to look into it further." 

He said if the contract is reversible, he would encourage the police commission and EPS to consider that option. 

With the delivery date just two weeks away, McFee said he's not sure that's realistic. 

"I'd have to look at the logistics of that," he said. "I'm not sure what the financial responsibility of that would be. But it would be fairly significant."


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston was an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father.