Closure of RCMP bomb data centre lamented by police

Following the Aaron Driver case in Strathroy, Ont., this week, investigators presumably have two important pieces of evidence in their hands: an unexploded bomb of some kind; and the remnants of a device that detonated in a taxi.

Both will offer clues about where Driver learned his bomb-making techniques. Those clues could potentially point to links with other jihadis, or even criminal charges against those who disseminate bomb-making information.

RCMP bomb data A bomb-maker’s “signature” could be the way he tapes his batteries, solders his wires, or selects a particular brand of watch or cellphone.

Tracking the signatures of bomb-makers, and maintaining a database of them, was just one of the roles of the Canadian Bomb Data Centre, which closed in April due to budgetary constraints. The centre had operated since 1974, when it was set up in response to the bombing campaign of the FLQ.

RCMP Cpl. Annie Delisle says, “As part of its review of the CBDC, the RCMP took into consideration that an external panel of law enforcement advisers from across Canada ranked it of lower importance to police operations. Some of the core services formerly provided by the CBDC will be absorbed into other areas of the RCMP.”

But not all Canadian police services agree there’s no need for a national forensic centre specializing in bombs and explosives.

This weekend, at the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Police Governance, the Calgary Police Commission is tabling a resolution asking for the centre to reopen.

Police Barracks Shooting
Pennsylvania State Police found this pipe bomb during a search for a suspect accused of killing a trooper in 2014. (Pennsylvania State Police via AP)

“Closure of the centre means police agencies no longer have access to co-ordinated information, resources and expertise at a time when it’s becoming increasingly important to have a centralized source for information about the criminal use of explosives,” says the resolution.

Governments should “amplify, rather than diminish, efforts in combating terrorism globally.”

Calgary Police Commission chair Howie Shikaze told CBC News he hopes to persuade other cities to back his campaign to bring the centre back.Canadian

“The Calgary Police Service believes it’s an important institution to keep intact. It acts as a place to combine technical expertise, and by combining all of the resources into that one place, what you end up with are resident experts.”

“It’s difficult to imagine that each metropolitan area would be able to afford the resident expert that’s required,” says Shikaze.

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Canada’s history of criminal bombing long predates the modern wave of jihadi terrorism. Just as the U.S. had the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh, Canada too has seen bombings carried out by a variety of groups, from the FLQ to Sikh extremists to gas-well opponents in BC and Alberta.

Some bombings have little to do with politics or religion, like the car bombs used in Montreal’s biker gang war of the 1990s, or the Giant mine bombing that killed nine during a strike.

Last year, a Winnipeg lawyer lost her hand when she opened a letter bomb sent by a man who also targeted two other women involved in his divorce case.

CRIME Canadian Forces Bomb
Canada’s history of criminal bombing long predates the modern wave of jihadi terrorism. Just as the U.S. had the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh, Canada too has seen bombings carried out by a variety of groups, from the FLQ to Sikh extremists to gas-well opponents in B.C. and Alberta. (Canadian Press)

Earlier this summer in Mississauga, Ont., a huge explosion flattened one house and damaged dozens of others in a blast that is still under investigation, but possibly was caused by a bomb.

It is above all the increased threat of jihadi terrorism, however, that has Calgary police questioning the timing of the bomb data centre’s closure.

The closure of the Canadian Bomb Data Centre comes at a time when many of this country’s allies are trying to strengthen their capacity in this area.

Last summer, the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) began moving into an expanded $132-million facility in Huntsville, Ala., after years operating out of a clutch of buildings and garages at the U.S. marine base in Quantico, Va.

It’s processed more than 100,000 devices: some domestic, most from Iraq and Afghanistan. They range from complete, unexploded devices to the shattered and burned fragments recovered from a roadside bombing.

The FBI facility has been nurtured by the U.S. government as both a clearing house for data and as a centre of institutional memory about ever-evolving techniques.

Those efforts have borne fruit. In the 13 years it’s operated, the centre has gathered and shared about 80,000 fingerprints with other law enforcement agencies. It has connected nearly 3,000 individual bomb-makers to individual bombs.

One of the benefits of having a national databank is that when bombs explode in different jurisdictions, surviving components all go to the same lab for analysis by the same group of experts, increasing the odds of finding links.

If instead, the different components sit on the shelves of evidence rooms in different municipal police departments, those connections may never be noticed.

The RCMP’s Delisle says the force will try to maintain some of the services of the bomb data centre.

“The community of explosives disposal units (EDU) in Canada is relatively small and its members maintain regular contact. The RCMP continues to share best practices, officer safety bulletins and emerging trends to the Canadian EDU community.”

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But Calgary’s Shikaze says local forces like the one he oversees will never be able to replace the lost expertise on their own.

“What I would hope is that we have a national bomb centre somewhere, and whether that’s the RCMP, or whether other people take note and say we have to put this together somehow and combine the resources across the country to get it accomplished, I think that’s the key thing — just getting it done.”

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