The federal government is moving ahead with plans to close three Canadian Coast Guard communications centres on the West Coast.
According to union spokesperson Scott Hodge, staff received notices last week confirming the closures.
The Tofino centre, which is actually located in nearby Ucluelet, will close April 21. Vancouver’s at 555 West Hastings Street will cease operations May 6 and the Comox centre will shut down sometime in early 2016.
The closures are part of a plan announced in 2012 to reorganize Coast Guard operations, including the controversial closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard Station.
Altogether 10 communication centres will be shut down across Canada, leaving a total of 12 nationwide.
The marine communication centres are responsible for listening for distress calls and guiding ships, much like air traffic controllers at airports.
On the West Coast the communications operations will be consolidated at upgraded centres in Victoria and Prince Rupert.
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Coast guard spokesperson Michele Boriel said the upgraded centres will enhance operational effectiveness.
“Equipment will be more reliable, service disruptions will be reduced, and coverage will remain exactly as it is today because the network of radio and radar towers across Canada will not change.
Boriel notes in the 1990’s new technology allowed the coast guard to reduce the number of communications centres from 44 to 22 nationally.
‘Blind spots’ concern union
Nevertheless, Unifor Local 2182 spokesperson Scott Hodge said he’s worried about what this means for monitoring Burrard Inlet.
“In Vancouver for instance, the traffic centre is located on the harbour. They have radar coverage in most of the harbour. There are blind spots in the radar, but when you view out the window you can see the entire harbour,” he said.
“Once the centres move to Victoria, that’ll be lost.”
Staff at the Comox and Vancouver centre will be transferred to Victoria, while staff at the Tofino centre will be transferred to Prince Rupert.
Hodge is also concerned about the noise in the larger centres.
“You have people talking all the time. If you can imagine a 911 centre in a party line, and what that would be like trying to listen for adult conversation going on for the one person in trouble,” he said.