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Metro Vancouver transit police change training after explosive lost

An Air Canada Boeing 767 jetliner tail in a 2007 file photo.

Larry MacDougal/The Globe and Mail

Transit Police for Metro Vancouver are no longer training bomb-sniffing dogs on in-service aircraft after an embarrassing incident in which they lost explosives on an Air Canada jet.

Documents released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Monday, show the Transit Police scrambled to try to recover the explosives after an officer realized he had left behind a small container during an exercise at Vancouver International Airport.

But the internal police reports show that by the time investigators returned to the airport, 48 hours later, the Boeing 767 had flown to Toronto. The plane was later searched numerous times, but the small container of explosives had vanished.

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It is believed the container was picked up by cleaning staff in Vancouver, after the police exercise, and sent to a garbage incinerator. However, police say they don't know for sure what happened to it.

"This was human error. It shouldn't have happened," Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said after the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released the internal documents.

She said the incident, which happened in January, 2011, sparked a review that led to a change in protocol for training exercises.

"We no longer use in-service aircraft. We now train our dogs on retired aircraft," said Ms. Drennan.

Although Transit Police are not responsible for air safety, they are required to train for bomb detection on aircraft to meet national standards. The aircraft now used in training are not in service, and are located at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Because of the incident Transit Police have also adopted a new checklist for dog handlers, to ensure they keep track of all material used during training exercises.

Ms. Drennan said the dog handler who lost the explosives resigned shortly after the incident.

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Jordan Bateman, British Columbia director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the incident raises questions about public safety and the accountability of the Transit Police.

"It's a weird one, and it's pretty shocking," said Mr. Bateman, whose organization has been monitoring Transit Police for efficiency in spending public funds.

"They spent lots of time investigating this," he said. "The Transit Police ended up babysitting waste bins, they interviewed two dozen potential witnesses and they had the plane searched numerous times."

Mr. Bateman was also critical of police for not releasing a statement on the incident when it happened.

Ms. Drennan said she couldn't explain why Transit Police didn't put out a press release at the time.

Mr. Bateman said he put in a Freedom of Information request after contacts told him rumours about the incident.

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The documents released include a Transit Police synopsis of the incident, which describes the missing item as a "sample" from an explosive training kit and says it "is inert without the aid of [some form of] explosive booster ie. Blasting cap."

The report says when police realized the material was missing, the vehicle and residence of the dog handler and all subsequent training areas were searched without success. Air Canada security did numerous sweeps of the aircraft without finding anything.

Police interviewed the crew responsible for cleaning the aircraft, and one said he found a container, but left it on a seat "knowing that the crew members responsible for removing garbage, etc. from the seats would remove it as they went through the plane."

However, investigators were unable to find anyone who recalled picking up the container after that. The explosive material was never found.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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