The hostage standoff in Midland City, Ala., which ended with a shootout between kidnapper Jimmy Lee Dykes and law enforcement and the rescue of the 5-year-old boy he abducted from a school bus after shooting its driver to death has lead to renewed interest in military style Emergency Response Teams. (1)
In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) was disbanded in 1992 and a new military counter-terrorism group, Joint Task Force Two (JTF 2) was created. (2) SERT had been formed in 1986 as force more suited to anti-terrorist activities then the existing Emergency Response Teams (ERTs). The decision to replace them with the military was made in part because the Canadian Forces could offer better-trained recruits for the program than civilian police forces, and also because of public concern about police being taught to use primarily lethal means.
Joint Task Force Two (JTF 2) is the Canadian Forces unit responsible for a broad range of missions, which could include counter-terrorism operations and armed assistance to other government departments. According to their website “This mandate was inherited from the Special Emergency Response Team of the RCMP, who maintained this responsibility from 1986 until 1993, at which time the federal government transferred the role to the CF.”
The unit is further described as “responsible for providing to Canada a force capable of rendering armed assistance in the resolution of an issue or a potential issue that affects national security. While JTF 2’s primary role is counter-terrorism, its personnel can be employed in any type of military operations, which include, but are not limited to, surveillance, security advice and close personal protection.”
Meanwhile back at the RCMP, the Emergency Response Teams (ERT) still exist in every province and assumed the tactical role held by the disbanded Special Emergency Response Team in 1993 to provide tactical response within Canada or abroad. The ERT is called in to deal with situations that are beyond the abilities of regular police personnel.
According to their website (3)” An ERT is a group of highly-trained RCMP members capable of employing specialized weapons, equipment, and tactics to resolve extremely high-risk situations. Some of the functions an ERT may be asked to perform include, but are not limited to:
Resolving incidents involving armed & barricaded persons;
Marine interventions (armed ship boarding);
High-risk searches & arrests;
VIP & witness protection duties;
Covert surveillance and intelligence gathering;
Rural tracking operations.”
Alert readers will notice the overlap between the functions of the RCMP’s ERTs and those of JTF 2. In part this is because bureaucracies of any kind abhor a vacuum and loathe giving up any function, or any source of funding. It is also true that the formation what were once called “Swat teams” has been a growth industry in police forces all over North America.
There is, however, another area of concern. There is a wide spread belief that the government of the day recommended the formation of JTF 2 and the disbanding of SERT because of conflicts between the RCMP's directive to save and protect life and the lethal mandate of the team. As events in Alabama have shown this disconnect still exists.
It is understandable that the Government and the DND are not excited at the prospect of Canadian military personal being used against Canadian citizens in their own country. At the same time it is not clear in which circumstances JTF 2 will be called in to deal with a situation rather then one of the RCMP ERTs. Until this situation is resolved Canada will continue field both military and para-military hostage rescue teams with all the resulting potential for confusion and misunderstanding that comes with over lying areas of jurisdiction.
(1) Time; Rural Rescue: A Timeline of the Alabama Hostage Crisis