The Kitsilano coast guard base is one of 10 stations across Canada set for closure by March 2013 as a result of a $79.3-million federal budget cut to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The cuts are a part of the Harper government’s 2011 omnibus budget bill. The announcement of the closure launched a wave of opposition from local politicians including Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Vancouver City Councillors and several MPs, as well as the Union of B.C. Municipalities, local mariners and members of the search and rescue community.
“[Closing the Kitsilano base] will lead to preventable deaths. That’s been the consensus of people in the search and rescue professional world — that it is an incredibly important resource for one of Canada’s busiest harbours,” says Joyce Murray, MP for Vancouver Quadra, the regional district representing Kitsilano and other affected communities.
The Kitsilano coast guard unit covers English Bay and the entrance to the Port of Vancouver — an area teeming with marine activity year-round. In 2011, the base responded to 271 calls, 28 per cent of which were distress incidents where lives were at risk or potentially at risk.
Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Keith Ashfield announced to the public in June that other marine resources will be sufficient to counterbalance the loss of the Kitsilano resources. These include a new hovercraft stationed at the coast guard base in Richmond, the Vancouver Police marine unit and the volunteer marine network, which has recently received $100 000 from the government to bolster its efforts.
The restructuring of the marine network does not seem to affect all local boaters. Mark Rogers, a resident of Locarno Beach (which neighbours Kitsilano) and long-time boater will not be changing his boating habits after the closure.
“In English Bay, I’ve seldom seen the coast guard called into action,” says Rogers, who has spent more than 30 years sailing the English Bay area. “Most of the time their boats are docked.”
However, Minister Ashfield’s reassurance did not alleviate concern surrounding the loss of a central station open 24-7. The Richmond base is approximately 31 kilometres away, which will add between 10–30 minutes to the response time that Kitsilano clocks. Delays in response will likely result in an increase in deaths, according to a report by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, as reported by Mayor Robertson.
Since the announcement of the closure, many have made efforts to keep the station open. The B.C. Federation of Labour led a 24-hour sit-in at the base on Sept. 14 in protest of the closure and job cuts, which are part of the government’s plan to reduce the DFO’s operational budget; fishermen, boaters and community members attended. On Sept. 26, the Union of B.C. Municipalities voted in favour of keeping the base open, while local politicians conducted ongoing petitions to gain support.
“We’ve done everything we can — everything from public events, reporting to council, sending letters — and all have been ignored,” says Vancouver City Councillor Kerry Jang. “This decision was made several months ago with no consultation at all with the City of Vancouver.”
Both Murray and Jang note their frustration in trying to reverse decisions that Bill C-38 made without deliberation with local authorities who are affected by the bill. Jang says they were not notified and found out about the potential closure from the media. Despite the waves of opposition, the federal government plans to go through with the closure. The Kitsilano coast guard base is scheduled to remain open for the next five months.
“The closure has been overwhelmingly rejected as a sensible cost-cutting measure by the public in Vancouver Quadra,” says Murray. “I’m going to continue to bring that to the government’s attention.”