Indigenous

Competition for new N.S. RCMP dispatch centre 'falsely stacked' against First Nation's bid: chief

The chief of Millbrook First Nation says the Nova Scotia RCMP's competition for its new communication centre was "distorted and biased," arbitrarily inflating the price of his community's proposal to reach a "predetermined outcome."

Millbrook First Nation wants re-do of site selection process

Bob Gloade, chief of Millbrook First Nation, says the process by which the RCMP selected the location for its new communications centre wasn't fair. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

The chief of Millbrook First Nation says the Nova Scotia RCMP's competition for its new communication centre was "distorted and biased," arbitrarily inflating the price of his community's proposal to reach a "predetermined outcome."

The Nova Scotia RCMP announced in 2019 that it had decided to move its communications centre from Truro, N.S., to the RCMP's provincial headquarters in Dartmouth. It's set to become operational in 2021.

The centre handles 911 calls, calls from the public and handles dispatches for 54 detachments and districts.

According to an RCMP internal report, the RCMP added $1.6 million to Millbrook First Nation's proposal and put down zero rent for its preferred option — the headquarters in Dartmouth.

"Millbrook First Nation provided a proposal in good faith, but we now know that the competition was falsely stacked," wrote Chief Robert Gloade in a March 25 letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair requesting a re-do of the contract process.

"Obviously the first competition was tainted in favour of one outcome. Millbrook First Nation is asking that this competition be repeated but performed by an objective assessment team with no predetermined outcome."

Copies of the letter were sent to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.

Blair's office referred questions to the RCMP, as did Bennett and Miller's spokespeople. 

Nova Scotia RCMP said the decision to relocate the communications centre to Dartmouth was the result of "months of follow-up work" that came to the best conclusion. 

"Our focus during the study and throughout the decision-making process was on the health and safety of our employees, operational requirements and fiscal responsibility," it said in an emailed statement.

6 options reviewed 

The RCMP reviewed six options before deciding on its headquarters, according to an internal 2017 report obtained under the Access to Information Act by former Liberal MP Bill Casey and provided to CBC News. 

Those options included doing nothing, upgrading the existing Truro centre, moving to a new location in the city, building a new location in the city or moving the centre to Millbrook First Nation. 

The headquarters of RCMP H Division in Dartmouth, N.S. (Robert Short/CBC)

Millbrook's proposal was the second cheapest relocation option, behind the headquarters move. However, the RCMP report assigned an extra $1.6 million to every relocation except its headquarters option. 

The figure is based on how much the Mounties pay the federal Public Works department every year to maintain empty space in their headquarters that could be rented to other federal agencies. 

The RCMP also assigned zero rent to its headquarters option. Yet, according to Public Works records provided by Casey to CBC News, the cost of rental space in the building housing its headquarters is $547 per square metre and total current annual rent is $10.5 million.    

Headquarters option scored 10s

"The process wasn't a fair process," said Gloade in an interview.

Millbrook First Nation sits about five kilometres south of Truro in the geographic centre of the province. It proposed to place the emergency communications centre in the Millbrook First Nation Power Centre, which is on a high priority power grid that runs underground and also serves a hospital a kilometre away. 

Gloade said the advantages were many with his community's proposal. He said the existing employees at the Truro centre would not have to move to keep their jobs and there is lots of room for expansion in the commercial building.

Millbrook already acts as the base for Nova Scotia Power whenever major natural events cause widespread power outages, Gloade said. It also hosts an Onex Solutions Inc. data centre that holds data from the provincial education department and its cannabis operations, he said.

Former Liberal MP Bill Casey says Millbrook First Nation was cheated out of a chance at hosting the new communications centre. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press )

Casey, who didn't run for re-election but raised the issue repeatedly while in Parliament, said the RCMP wanted the centre placed at its headquarters in Dartmouth and manipulated the competition to get their predetermined outcome.

"They cheated Millbrook First Nation out of a chance at this," said Casey.

Casey said there were major problems with the RCMP's selection process.

The RCMP's ranking chart for each of the six main options was based on seven categories using a three rating system — zero if it didn't meet standards, five if it met minimum standards and 10 if it met or surpassed standards, according to the 2017 report. 

The seven categories were: health and safety, consolidation of resources, functionality of accommodations, financial impact, human resource sustainability, level of disruption and potential for expansion.

The RCMP headquarters option rated 10s across the board.

Ranking chart from the 2017 Nova Scotia RCMP report. (Submitted)

Millbrook's proposal rated a five on financial impact — primarily on the added $1.6 million, plus rent; a five on human resource sustainability, meaning the ability to staff the centre from the local population and a zero on ability to expand.

It scored an overall rating equal to the options of relocating to another building in Truro or constructing a new facility in the city — but at a cheaper overall price, according to the report. 

Casey questioned why the First Nation proposal would rate so low on human resource sustainability since the centre in Truro has maintained its staffing for over a decade and all its employees would not have to relocate. 

He also challenged the low rating on ability to expand when the centre would be placed in a nearly vacant commercial building. 

Halifax area for centre flagged as a risk in 2004 report

Casey said the move to RCMP headquarters would also potentially put people at risk in Nova Scotia.

The decision to move the centre to the Mounties' Nova Scotia headquarters would place it about 10 kilometres from the Halifax Regional Police's own communications facility. 

A 2004 RCMP report that initially led to the centralizing of communications at the centre in Truro specifically recommended against placing it in Halifax because it posed a risk that one event could undermine the communication centres of both the regional police and the RCMP. 

Operators in the RCMP operational communications centres take 911 calls from the public and perform risk assessments for the officers they dispatch to the scene. (Nova Scotia RCMP)

Several emergency organizations, including the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, recommend placing emergency operations centres in separate locations.

"To me it became a safety issue for all of Nova Scotia," said Casey.

The Nova Scotia RCMP said in a statement that it has contingency plans should an event undermine its communications centre once it's moved to Dartmouth. The statement said these continuity plans passed a third-party review.

"Contingency plan for 'H' Division RCMP includes a back-up RCMP [communications centre] located outside of the [Halifax Regional Municipality] and portable equipment that would allow us to restart operations should both the primary and back-up [centre] be non-operational," said the statement.

The 2017 report made no mention of the 2004 recommendation in its ranking of potential sites.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jorge Barrera is a Caracas-born, award-winning journalist who has worked across the country and internationally. He works for CBC's Indigenous unit based out of Ottawa. Follow him on Twitter @JorgeBarrera or email him jorge.barrera@cbc.ca.

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