Coast Guard response times from Richmond’s Sea Island base could double, a union has warned, after a decision to close the service’s Kitsilano operation.
The federal government is risking lives by shutting down a coast guard station on the Vancouver waterfront as part of budget cuts, the public sector union stated further.
The Union of Canadian Transportation Employees announced Thursday the operations of the Kitsilano station, which straddles a busy boating area between English Bay and False Creek, will be shifted to another base on Sea Island in Richmond, near Vancouver International Airport.
Christine Collins, the union's national president, said closing the station will double response times by as much as an hour.
"Absolutely, it will risk lives," she said, noting crews responded to 285 calls last year and 70 calls so far this year. "There is no doubt in my mind that lives will be lost."
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in an email, though, that the Kitsilano and Sea Island operations perform the same functions and their service areas overlap.
The department also said no other coast guard operations are in such close proximity, service levels will remain the same, and a new hovercraft is coming next year.
Gerry Moores, union shop steward, said employees were informed of the cuts Thursday afternoon and reacted with profound sadness, tears and even a "temperamental outburst."
"That coast guard station is a huge value for Vancouver and our harbour," added Mayor Gregor Robertson, noting emergency calls can't be served from kilometres away.
The announcement comes almost one week before safe boating awareness week, which runs May 26 to June 1.
Last year, the federal government closed two other rescue centres in St. John's, NL., and Quebec City.