Kits Coast Guard Base proponents demand dialogue
As a 24-hour sit-in to protest the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base ended Saturday, organizers said no one from the government or coast guard management has responded to an invitation to visit the base to hear their concerns.
The Vancouver base is the busiest in Canada and responds to more than 350 calls a year.
But the federal government said a hovercraft station, a new inshore rescue boat and a $100,000 funding boost to the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue -- a volunteer organization -- will be enough to keep the harbour safe.
It has plans to close the base next spring, but employees and some members of the public have vowed to stop the closure.
Since 5 p.m. Friday a handful of coast guard members and sympathizers have been occupying the base in protest.
B.C. Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair visited the protesters on site Saturday.
Sinclair said its closure could mean big trouble for mariners near Vancouver.
"You sit in these rooms and listen to what people do (as part of their job),” he said.
“If you can walk in here and say it should be closed, then there’s something wrong with the political system in this country.”
The news of the base’s closure has been met with strong opposition.
Some of that opposition has come from those in charge of marine rescue operations dispatching, who said the new plan for marine rescue in the region will not work.
In a recently leaked memo sent by maritime coordinators from the Victoria Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre to their regional managers, the lack of consultation about the base’s closure was raised.
“We, the Maritime Coordinators of JRCC Victoria, object to the proposed closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base (Kits) as there was no consultation with any of the SAR expertise at JRCC Victoria, Sea Island or Kitsilano. Closing Kits will endanger the lives of mariners,” said the memo.
The three pages of leaked emails blasted the federal government and coast guard management for “misleading” the public regarding the qualifications of the volunteer search and rescue outfit and other claims made by the government and coast guard.
“RCMSAR cannot replace Kits. We are very concerned with management’s representation of RCMSAR as ‘highly trained.’ We know this is not the case,” it said.
Sinclair said he and others at the base Saturday want members of the federal government, specifically the Minister of Heritage James Moore of Port Moody because of his high standing in the party, to visit and listen to their concerns.
Attempts to contact James Moore by CTV News were not returned.
But in June, the Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield accused those against the closure of spreading false information about the base’s rescue numbers.
The closure of the station in no way endangers people using Vancouver-area waters, and accusations to the contrary are simply a myth, he said to reporters in Vancouver.
Ashfield conceded public backlash to the announcement has been great, but showed no sign of backing down.
“It's raised the ire of many people, but nobody likes change. We see this time and again,” he said.
Meanwhile Mike Cotter of the Jericho Sailing Centre, located just west of the sailing base, said his organization also wants to see more attention to the issue from the federal government.
“We are likely going to host a meeting of stakeholders this fall where conservative MPs will be specifically invited because they have been conspicuously absent,” said Cotter.
Cotter said at peak times the centre will have about 5,000 people a day on the water.
Those who occupied the centre said the will do it again if their request for a meeting are not met.
With files from the Canadian Press