Nova Scotia

N.S. RCMP forging ahead with plans to move dispatch centre to Dartmouth

The RCMP is moving ahead with plans to relocate its Nova Scotia dispatch centre from Truro to its Dartmouth headquarters, despite concerns it will strain staff forced to commute after long shifts and could be a liability in an emergency.

Union worried move will put strain on workers commuting in bad weather after long shifts

The RCMP's emergency call centre takes 911 calls from the public and performs risk assessments for the officers it dispatches. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

The RCMP is moving ahead with plans to relocate its Nova Scotia dispatch centre from Truro to its provincial headquarters in Dartmouth next year, despite concerns it could strain staff forced to commute after long shifts or be a liability in an emergency.

A consultant has been picked to study how the communications centre would be brought up and running again in the event of a catastrophe affecting the headquarters. The contractor will start the work after a security clearance, Cpl. Jennifer Clarke said in an emailed statement.

About 70 people work at the Truro operational communications centre. They answer the public's 911 calls — calming callers, performing background checks and assessing any potential risks for the officers they dispatch.

Operational staff work 12-hour shifts and are often the public's first point of contact in very challenging situations, said Kathleen Hippern, who works in Truro as a supervisor and is president of CUPE Local 104, the national union representing the RCMP dispatchers.

She said staff work so closely with the front-line officers they're referred to as "the second member in the car." Hippern has long been worried it will be a safety risk for staff who live in Truro to commute to Dartmouth in all types of weather. 

"It's only an hour, an hour and a half away, but to do that in inclement weather, when you're essential services, after a long night shift, presents challenges and concerns with regards to health and safety," said Hippern. 

The employer has offered relocation packages, but Hippern said people are already seeking other work or planning to retire early because moving isn't an option for them.

There's now empty office space at the RCMP headquarters in Burnside that's estimated to cost the force about $1.6 million a year. (Robert Short/CBC)

Lenore Zann, a former provincial MLA who is now Liberal MP for Cumberland-Colchester, which includes the Truro area, said she's been hearing the same concerns from employees for years.

Zann and her predecessor, Bill Casey, are also worried that moving the centre to the Burnside business park in Dartmouth, close to the Halifax Regional Police dispatch centre, would put emergency services at risk in the event of a worst-case scenario like a severe weather event or attack.

Through an access-to-information request, Casey obtained a 2004 RCMP review that recommended against putting the communications centre in the Halifax area due to risks associated with having two police communication centres close together.

"You need to have two [locations]. You can't just put all your eggs in one basket and have one in one spot because if, for instance, if anything happens ... you're basically out of luck because everything will go down," said Zann. 

Lenore Zann while campaigning with Bill Casey in 2019. Both the present and former MP for Cumberland-Colchester say the province's dispatch centres need to be geographically separated. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

In December, she brought forward a petition in the House of Commons calling on the RCMP to follow through on requests for an arm's length investigation of the safety issues relating to having the centres too close together, as well as to consider keeping jobs in a more rural area.

The RCMP has said public safety was at the forefront of the decision to move the call centre.

New building, renovations ruled out

An August 2017 study ordered by the commanding officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia looked at the feasibility of using the Truro facility for another 10 years, examining health and safety, costs and operational needs. 

It found that revamping site would be the most expensive option at $6.8 million, while moving to Dartmouth would cost $3.5 million, saving millions. The study also looked at a new site in Millbrook (estimated at $6.4 million) and building a new one in Truro ($16.5 million).

There's currently empty space in the RCMP's Dartmouth headquarters that is costing the force $1.6 million a year. That expense was factored into the estimates for sites outside of Dartmouth.

But Zann said other federal employees could be moved into the RCMP building without taking jobs from a more rural part of the province. 

"I just think it's ridiculous. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to me," she said. 

Meanwhile, Hippern said she's still struggling to understand why Dartmouth is considered a better option for employees. She said it takes a few years for a dispatcher to learn how to do their job well and she worried seasoned colleagues will find other work.

"When it comes to job knowledge, job expertise, there's going to be a lot lost," she said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 13 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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