National Newswatch

NEW GLASGOW, N.S. — Members of the police force in New Glasgow, N.S., were all smiles in 2014 when Peter MacKay, the local MP and then defence minister, arranged for the Canadian military to give them a decommissioned light-armoured vehicle, free of charge.

Four years later, the town's police chief says the imposing, 10-tonne vehicle — complete with a rotating turret — was never really put to good use, and he confirmed that town officials have decided to give it away.

"We really have not had any use for that since we've had it," regional police chief Eric MacNeil said in an interview Wednesday. "Could we have done without it? Yes."

The six-wheeled Cougar, first built by General Dynamics in London, Ont., in the late 1970s, was used by the Canadian military until 2005. The fleet has since been retired, and some vehicles were given to other police forces, including those in Edmonton and Windsor.

In New Glasgow, the tank-like vehicle was supposed to be used by the police department's emergency response team, but that unit was recently disbanded after 10 years in operation.

"We didn't really have a call for that as well," MacNeil said. "We had several calls, but they probably could have been handled without the use of an emergency response team."

For the most part, the vehicle was kept in storage and was taken outside last week for Police Week.

The town's mayor, Nancy Dicks, said there was much public debate about the acquisition four years ago.

"Initially, there was that perception that it was over-militarizing our police," she said. "But I haven't heard anything to that effect after the first few months."

The police chief stressed that the Cougar was never meant to be used by his officers as any kind of weapon. Before the vehicle was delivered, it was stripped of its weapons, including the gun in its turret.

"The perception of having something like at your disposal, well the public thinks your being aggressive," MacNeil said.

"(However), the intended use (for the Cougar) was transporting people in high-risk situations. If we had to move people from a situation where there were firearms involved, or if we had to engage in a confrontation like that, that would be the safest way to transport our officers or the public to get them out of there."

The chief cited the case of Justin Bourque, who on June 4, 2014 used an assault rifle to shoot five Mounties in Moncton, N.B., killing three of them.  

"It's an insurance policy," MacNeil said. "But really, is it practical for a police service of our size?"

MacNeil said the town has received inquiries from across Canada, including Halifax Regional Police and the Cape Breton Regional Police. No decisions have been made.

Halifax Regional police chief Jean-Michel Blais said he's asked his staff to prepare a report for him, but he said he has his doubts about the vehicle.

"It's a military vehicle, and my first impression is that it's definitely not a vehicle suited for policing needs," he said in an interview. "I'm not too crazy about the idea of having a vehicle that's probably 30 years old. But I can't make a decision unless I have the information."

He said police forces, including the RCMP, seem more interested in using so-called tactical armoured vehicle, which look more like heavy-duty, all-terrain trucks with armour plating.

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

The Canadian Press

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