B.C. Transit police forgot explosive device on plane after bomb training exercise

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Transit Police and a security guard help track down the missing baby out front of the Sprott Shaw College near the King George SkyTrain Station.

The latest screwup by Metro Vancouver's armed transit police has the Canadian Taxpayers Federation calling for the force to be disbanded.

The tax watchdog group unearthed information via a freedom-of-information request that a B.C. Transit police dog handler lost an explosive device during a 2011 training exercise aboard an Air Canada jetliner.

According to the federation, the officer didn't realize it was missing for two days, by which time the plane had been put back into service. The Boeing 767 was subsequently searched 14 times to ensure the plastic-explosive device was no longer on board.

The searches and subsequent police investigation concluded that aircraft cleaners picked up the inert device and put it in with the rest of the trash, which probably ended up being incinerated. But the federation said there's no concrete evidence to corroborate that theory.

“This incident not only carelessly put the public at risk, it cost taxpayers a ton of money,” Jordan Bateman, the federation's B.C. director, said in a news release.

“Transit Police officers conducted dozens of interviews, staked out a trash bin for several hours, and involved other agencies such as Transport Canada, YVR security, Richmond and Airport RCMP, the Coast Guard and Air Canada. This cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars – all based on the ridiculous premise that a Transit Police dog should know how to find bombs on a commercial jetliner.”

[ Related: Transit police nab suspect in alleged seat-slashing investigation ]

The device was inert and would need a blasting cap to make it explode, The Canadian Press reported based on the documents obtained by the federation, which were heavily censored before being released.

The incident was never made public but the documents show transit police prepared a news release jointly with Transport Canada and Vancouver International Airport officials.

B.C. Transit's SkyTrain line was the subject of a bomb scare last fall, which included a homemade device found on the guideway, but Bateman questioned why transit police would need a dog trained to detect explosives aboard an aircraft.

Transit police spokeswoman Anne Drennan told the Huffington Post the officer left a "small sample" of Semtex plastic explosive aboard the plane. The officer "didn't follow protocol," she said.

"Once he advised transit police, an investigation was initiated, the plane was searched numerous times with negative results," Drennan said.

One of the plane's cleaners said he spotted a "small vial" on one of the seats but left it for colleagues who were collecting garbage to pick it up, Drennan added.

The Vancouver's Transit Police is the only armed transit force in the country. Its 60 officers carry pistols as well as Tasers.

[ Related: Vancouver's SkyTrain system faces new attacks after bomb scare ]

The force has come under criticism almost since its inception in 2005.

CBC News reported in 2008 that transit officers had fired their stun guns 10 times in the previous year, including three instances involving non-violent subjects.

In one case, the Taser was used on a free rider who was trying to run away during a fare check. In another, a fare evader being arrested was stunned when he grabbed the platform railing and refused to let go.

"I would call it a shocking abuse and misuse of a very significant weapon," Murray Mollard of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said at the time.

Last fall transit Const. Daniel Dickhout was suspended for two days without pay after using his Taser in 2007 on a man who tried to leave while the officer was writing him a ticket for fare evasion, according to Postmedia News.

Dickhout and his partner had chased Christopher Lypchuk, who had been drinking, into a stairwell. Dickhout claimed he fired the Taser becauce Lypchuck appeared ready to assault his partner. Lypchuk fell and cut his forehead, requiring stitches.

“The irresistible inference from the totality of the evidence ... is that Const. Dickhout discharged the Taser because he was annoyed by Lypchuk’s behaviour, foul language and reluctance to promptly respond to various commands, and not because he believed that Lypchuk was committing a criminal offence," Ian Pitfield, who adjudicated the case for the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner, wrote in his decision.

Bateman said the federation has criticized the $27-million annual cost of the force, which pays officers $100,000 in salary and benefits but whose work mostly involves conducting fare checks.

“The Transit Police should be disbanded, with half its budget being invested in the much cheaper, more effective Transit Security,” Bateman said in the federation's news release.