A crowd of about 100 people at a town-hall meeting heard dire warnings about the consequences of closing the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.
Retired Coast Guard hovercraft captain Mike Kelly told the audience at the Jericho Sailing Centre last night that there are an average of 350 calls per year from the rescue station in English Bay.
"Bases don't fall out of the sky because they've [the government] got too much money," he declared. "They only fall out of the sky because somebody paid for it in blood. It's always blood on the deck before anything gets done. We must not pay that price again."
Kelly, who spent 37 years in the Canadian Coast Guard, emphasized that he has seen no evidence justifying the Conservative government's closure of the Kitsilano station.
He revealed that he previously conducted search-and-rescue needs analysis, and contributed to a national analysis as well.
"This is a nontrivial job," Kelly stated. "It takes a lot of work to do a proper SAR needs analysis. You don't do an analysis by looking at a spreadsheet with dollar figures around it. You have to look at several years of actual SAR reports to figure out what really went on. It takes a lot of willpower, horsepower, and intellectual thought to get this done."
Retired captain Mike Kelly discusses search-and-rescue needs analysis.
Another speaker, Jericho Sailing Centre general manager Mike Cotter, pointed out that billions of dollars of cargo travels through First Narrows every year. He described it as the "most strategically important waterway in the country as it includes the entrance to Vancouver harbour".
"And they can't come up with $900,000 to ensure the safety and free flow of goods through that area? Come on," Cotter stated derisively.
In his presentation, Cotter delivered a point-by-point rebuttal to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Keith Ashfield's claim earlier this week that the level of search-and-rescue services wouldn't be affected by the closure of the Kitsilano station.
Ashfield has maintained that a new inshore rescue boat station in the summer season and stronger relationships with "search-and-rescue partners", such as the Canadian Coast Guard auxillary, will suffice.
In response, Cotter posted a map of the region on an overhead projector. It demonstrated that there are five million people travelling through the harbour each year, including SeaBus traffic.
The Kitsilano Coast Guard Station can respond within six minutes to any emergency in this area, according to Cotter.
He noted that the Coast Guard auxillary in Horseshoe Bay would take 45 minutes to reach First Narrows, including a 30-minute callout to get them ready. From the Coast Guard auxillary in Deep Cove, it would take 50 minutes.
"Kitsilano Coast Guard Station is the highly trained, professionally crewed, rapid-response police-fire-ambulance service to the five million people who flow through the area, 24/7 365 [days a year]," Cotter said.
He also mocked any notion on the part of the fisheries minister that the Jericho Sailing Centre's 40-member volunteer rescue team could possibly serve as the first responders in a major disaster.
"Our response time to the First Narrows is eight minutes," Cotter said. "It is absolutely delusional of him to expect that a small nonprofit organization should shoulder the Canadian Coast Guard's responsibility in the most highly congested marine-traffic waterway in the country."
Mike Cotter points out some problems with the federal government's decision.
The meeting was organized by NDP fisheries critic Fin Donnelly, the MP for New Westminster–Coquitlam. He told the crowd that he didn't believe the federal government even consulted with Vancouver port officials before announcing the closure of the Kitsilano station.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris, who also attended the meeting, pointed out that the Conservative government has closed the marine-rescue coordinating centre in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, and is going to close a similar centre in Quebec City.
He added that Defence Minister Peter MacKay should make search-and-rescue a higher priority of the Canadian Armed Forces.
"If you need a helicopter from Comox for a search—if it's between 8 and 4 in the daytime on a weekday—you're good," Harris said. "But if it's after 4 o'clock or it's on a weekend or a federal holiday, the standard is a two-hour standby before they get in the air. Then they have to come and get you and find you. That's not good enough."
Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs told the audience that council and the park board have both passed motions opposing the federal government's decision to close the rescue station. He said that he is still holding out hope that Ottawa will reverse this decision.
"There will be, in the next few days, the salmon fleet leaving, international trade, cruise ships, and so on—and it's for all those reasons that Mayor [Gregor] Robertson described the decision to unilaterally close the Kitsilano base without a word of consultation as a real slap in the face," Meggs declared.
Geoff Meggs explains why the city is fighting the closure of the Kitsilano base.
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