RCMP to close labs in Halifax, Winnipeg, Regina

The RCMP is closing forensic laboratories in Halifax, Winnipeg and Regina and consolidating them with three others in a bid to save money and produce more efficient results.

The move to consolidate the Mounties' forensic services at laboratories in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa has surprised some provinces and lawyers.

But RCMP Assistant Commissioner Peter Henschel said the move will result in a more efficient service for the Mounties, municipal police and other agencies that depend on the forensic labs.

Henschel offered the example of a firearm that needs ballistic and DNA testing.

"You'll have those two services at the same site [after the consolidation] so you can conduct everything that needs to be done on that exhibit at one site and doesn't mean having to ship it from one site to another, as may have happened with the six-site model," Henschel said.

Currently, the six labs specialize in different areas, such as toxicology, blood-spatter analysis and counterfeiting.

A Public Safety spokesperson said streamlining the lab services follows the auditor general's 2010 recommendation for a more efficient system and will help reduce a backlog in forensic tests.

It is expected the move will also save $3.5 million and will reduce redundancy and infrastructure costs such as building maintenance.

Concerns about regional impact

In Nova Scotia, a spokesman for the province's Department of Justice said the province was not consulted on the decision.

"We are just learning about this decision," said Dan Harrison. "Our concerns are two-fold. First, and foremost, is for the staff and families in Halifax who received this news today. Second, the department is concerned about any potential negative impact this has for Nova Scotia's justice system. We hope there are none."

Josh Arnold, president of the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association, said he was concerned about the impact the Halifax lab's closing would have on criminal trials.

"Justice delayed is justice denied. An accused person is constitutionally entitled to a trial within a reasonable period of time," Arnold said. "Generally any delay in bringing a matter to trial due to a lack of police resources falls at the feet of the Crown.

"Anyone involved in the criminal justice system in Nova Scotia should be concerned."

But the RCMP's Henschel said the three facilities will be closed one at a time to ensure the least amount of disruption. Equipment will be moved and roughly 70 scientists and technicians will be offered transfers.

Abe Townsend, an executive member of the RCMP's staff relations program, says his group will be keeping a close eye on how it all unfolds.

"It's our hope these type of adjustments to our service delivery model will not affect, negatively affect the timelines in relation to getting analysis out the door."

Regina-area Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said it was a loss for the regions, "Not to mention the loss of some 30 excellent technical jobs in Regina and the wasteful conversion of a state-of-the-art forensic lab into an office building."

Canada's first forensic lab was established by the RCMP in Regina in 1937. Since then its experts in ballistics, counterfeiting, biology and DNA have helped Mounties, municipal police forces and other agencies solve crimes.

Like many other government departments, the recent federal budget dealt a blow to the RCMP, cutting $192 million from the force's annual budget.

with files from Alison Crawford