Fall of 2003 Dive Rescue Team Logo – Credit to Bob McCauley


Good news for the CCG Dive Rescue Team. Reports from my Coast Guard contacts say that the decision to axe the team has been rescinded. There was much rejoicing! Making some noise seems to have worked plus last week the unit saved the lives of 2 adults and 5 children who were clinging to their capsized vessel. Penetrating the wreck wasn’t necessary but they could have gone inside if needed. Hopefully the team’s stay of execution lasts for awhile.


Ardesco ab Venter

The title, loosely translated from Latin, means Fire from the Belly. This was the motto of our 2003 Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) Dive Rescue training class while we struggled through the labours Tim, John and the other trainers subjected us to in the pool, at the dock shed in Steveston village, Richmond and at the Kitsilano Coast Guard station (CGS). We were the second of two groups trained that year to become members of a newly formed, elite, one of a kind in Canada Dive Rescue team destined to operate out of the CCG Hovercraft station based at Sea Island, Richmond, BC.

Reminiscent of other past Liberal and Conservative government decisions to cut CCG programs like the original dive rescue team, manned lighthouses and the Kitsilano CGS, Trudeau’s government recently announced their intention to axe the current Dive Rescue team and reallocate the $500,000/year savings and personnel to other CCG areas. Search and Rescue (SAR) experts, industry, the public and politicians are lining up against this short-sighted decision while the government plays a bait and switch policy saying they are increasing total CCG funding. As an aside, the CCG has been chronically underfunded for decades and is in woeful shape.

Related links

While determining budgets and public policy, it is difficult for politicians to determine the correct programs and facilities to fund and support. Similar to shutting down a fire hall, you have an emotional public (who votes you in) on one side and bean counters (purveyors of fiscal reality) with hard statistics on the other. In a case of absurdum, you don’t want to over-react to a perceived issue like Homer Simpson and his ill-conceived Bear Patrol.

I would like to present arguments that are both emotional and logical in favour of keeping the Dive Rescue unit intact.

Working as a first responder is a calling, not a labour. I had my first taste of Search and Rescue (SAR) as a young man posted to CFB Summerside, PEI. The waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence were particularly treacherous mid-December 1990 and numerous sailors from Le Bout de Ligne, Nadine, Straits Pride II and a couple of foreign cargo vessels lost their lives in the three day storm. CCG ships, military aircraft, commercial and fishing vessels conducted a multi-day search. I volunteered to fly in one of the 413 Transport and Rescue Squadron Buffalos as a spotter. Conditions were atrocious in the rear of a bucking Buffalo. The aircraft was being buffeted by 70 knot winds while we flew 500 feet over 70 foot high waves. Reports from a CCG ship stated that sea conditions were so bad that lifeboat survivors next to the ship couldn’t be brought onboard before succumbing to the elements. Most sane individuals run away from conditions like these while SAR personalities see it as an opportunity to deter Death’s collection of souls for that day. I didn’t see a damn thing in the back of that Buffalo in all the hours patrolling back and forth between PEI and Newfoundland but I imagined that those doomed sailors died knowing that we at least tried. The collective SAR effort saved none of the three Le Bout de Ligne sailors, two of the ten Nadine sailors and three of the six Straits Pride II sailors that night. Divers from CCG Ship G.C. Gorton recovered one of the victims from the wreck before it sank. I am sure the families of the rescued and recovered sailors were not thinking of the cost of the efforts put towards finding their loved ones.

CCGS Sea Island Dive Rescue Unit Crest

Fast forward 13 years and I was a newly trained Rescue Specialist with the CCG Dive Rescue Unit. We were pumped up after an intensive seven week training course (last I heard it is now a thirteen week course) and eager to put our life saving skills to use. Media attention was high, we were giving tours, interviews and receiving plenty of favourable press coverage. I did not have a long wait before my first major incident as just a few shifts into my new career, my team responded to reports of a security van in the water at the Vancouver Centerm Pier. The call ran like clockwork. We arrived on scene well within our rescue window, fire trucks were lighting up the area where they said the van had hit the water and we had a diver deployed within minutes. All good except there was no van, no occupants and no rescue. I was the third diver in the water when word came down that our Captain had discovered evidence (scratches on the pier’s bull rail) that the van was probably at the stern of the hovercraft rather than the bow where we had been directed to search. Through no fault of their own, the land based emergency services had pointed us in the wrong direction and we were well past rescuing a husband and father of two young children. Disbanding the Dive Rescue unit will severely diminish inter-agency cooperation and the knowledge base between the CCG, the military and civilian emergency services. Over fourteen years of hard fought expertise is in danger of being lost if this decision goes through. The grown children of that deceased security guard will not be happy that lessons from their father’s death will be forgotten.

Unimaginative bean counters and CCG brass have been whittling away at the Sea Island dive team for decades citing cost as a major issue. I understand that sometimes you have to equate a dollars and cents figure to how many lives have been or may be saved by a particular organization. In my three plus years with the Dive Rescue unit, I saved one life while diving. I also participated in many dive incidents where we were too late. So if you’re looking for bang for your buck, Dive Rescue is a long shot. But if you’re looking at discontinuing the dive capabilities, then who is going to dive on the 10 to 12 vehicles per year that end up in the Lower Mainland waters to check for occupants? Who is going to respond to distressed divers at Whytecliff Park, or the artificial reefs off Vancouver Island and in Howe Sound? Who is going to check overturned vessels or crashed aircraft for survivors? These are just stats of my participation let alone the decade’s worth of SAR calls since I left the unit. Military SAR Technicians, police and fire units are not equipped, or do not have the expertise to respond adequately or timely to the incidents that routinely are attended to by the Dive Rescue Unit. The closest divers who could respond to a vehicle in the water along the Fraser would be the SAR Techs of 442 Squadron based out of Comox on Vancouver Island. There will be gaps and people will needlessly die as impotent rescuers standby.

The plan is to keep the hovercraft and a rescue team operational at Sea Island. They will reduce the five person Rescue Specialist team from five down to probably two. This will drastically reduce the value added capabilities of the response team. During my time at the station, only approximately 10% of the SAR calls involved diving with the rest being a grab bag mix of tracking down ELT/EPIRB signals, vessels in distress, transferring summer sun worshipper patients from Wreck Beach, looking for persons floating in the water, etc. In addition we did buoy tending (visited Sand Heads Light a lot), pollution response (recovered discarded buoy batteries tossed in the water by previous CCG technicians), Community outreach (public tours and numerous media clips), marine patrols (summer standby for Vancouver’s Celebration of Light fireworks shows) assisting university and Department of Fishery scientists, etc. It never hurt to have a few extra trained bodies on hand as spotters, helpers or extra muscle especially for the more involved SAR incidents or day to day CG activities.

The nightmare scenario and the reason for hovercraft stationed near Vancouver International Airport since 1968 is to provide emergency service for an aircraft going down in the low tide mud flats next to the airport. The mud extends for miles and hovercraft are the only practical means of rescuing large numbers of survivors before the tide comes in to drown them. Just such an accident occurred on January 2, 1966 when a Grumman G-21A Goose flown by BC Air Lines overshot a runway and landed out in the tidal flats. It was difficult to extract the 10 survivors as the only means to reach them was by helicopter. A couple of years later, on February 7, 1968, a Canadian Pacific Boeing 707 nearly did the same thing while skidding off the airport’s runway. If the aircraft had continued on into the mud or the shallow waters of a low tide, rescuing the 61 crew and passengers onboard would have been challenging. Later that year, in August, two SRN-6 hovercraft started regular operations from the station. In 1971, Captain John McGrath became the station’s Officer-In-Charge and was instrumental in acquiring the larger hovercraft replacements for the SRN-6s. His other major project was to develop and implement his vision for a fully staffed Dive Rescue capability. Captain McGrath, with the help of Rescue Specialist Tim McFarlane realized this dream with the creation of today’s Dive Rescue unit in 2003. But by government logic, since the Vancouver International airport has never had a serious large scale crash in the mud, then why continue the costly funding of the station and its two expensive hovercraft? Why not retire the hovercraft and rely on shallow draft 733/753 Zodiacs and hope if a plane goes in that it happens at high tide?

The voices against the removal of the Dive Rescue Unit are beginning to intensify. There are clear emotional and logical arguments to keep these knowledgeable, dedicated, experienced heroes in place. The half million/year reported ‘savings’ amounts to .02% of the CCG’s 2017 reported $2.5-billion budget. (If you watch the Simpson’s clip, you’ll see how upset Homer gets over a measly extra $5 Bear Patrol Tax.) Like my former classmates, these dedicated CCG personnel fight with ‘fire in their bellies’ while providing a demonstrated public service to the citizens of their SAR area of responsibility.

Keep the divers at Sea Island and tell the Liberals to stop trying to repeat tragic history.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


The Common Earthworm

Tales from An Urban Worm Herder

With the Navy behind me and extra time ahead of me for the pursuit of other interests, I have turned my hand to the exciting profession of Worm Whispering. The Canadian Maritimes are experiencing their usual cool, wet spring which has generated perfect conditions for numerous wiggly  Lumbricus terrestris (the common earthworm) to squirm their way across my nearby parking lots and pathways.

So, why take up whispering for earthworms? Some serious worm experts at the University of Illinois have put some heavyweight study into the little animals and you can read all about Squirmin’ Herman and his amazing benefits at the following link:

One of the interesting facts that I learned when I started this new profession was that worms are not coming to the surface because of the rain drowning them out of their burrows. Rather, after a good soaking, it signals to the animal that this would be a good time to start a worm pilgrimage to see if in fact the dirt is dirtier on the other side.

They are ambitious, determined creatures. Straight line distance across my parking lot is about 100 feet making it quite the trek if you were wiggling along on your belly. As you can see in this video, this worm was moving at a blistering speed of 8 inches per minute or .0076 MPH. Cutting straight across the lot, a determined worm could make it in 2.5 hours. Impressive!

Okay, now that you aspiring worm herders are jacked on the benefits of worms, let us get to know the relevant parts and characteristics of your typical wiggler. The diagram above shows the main parts of your common earthworm or night crawler. They are weird, little beasts who are both male and female, hermaphrodites, so when two worms get together to ‘do it’, they double their pleasure. Mmmmm, pornographic worm sex! Yeah, probably not a big seller. Anyways, stuff goes in the mouth end and worm poop gold comes out the back end. Also, note the Clitelum (yes, a little dirty sounding and is related to more worm sex). Also known as the Saddle, this is an important landmark for when I explain the best method of gathering a healthy starter crop of worms. Lastly, the entire worm is covered in goo that enables it to inch along the pavement or through the dirt and keeps it from drying out.

Okay, enough prepping, let’s get hunting! The best time and place to find your future herd is to go to the nearest parking lot at the tail end of a solid rain event. You have to be quick or cars and birds will take their toll first. When I was neophyte to the profession, I would just pick up a worm with my fingers. As you can see in this video, as soon as they are touched they employ their defensive mechanisms. The slippery goo makes them hard to pick up, your fingers get icky and you’re stressing out the worm.

Here’s my patented method for successful, efficient worm harvesting and re-settling:

1)  Find a butter knife and a worm receptacle. Early into my new career, I determined that I needed something to carry the worms in besides my hands. There were a lot of them plus I’m pretty sure those horny worms were having sex as I carried them back to my garden plot. You can use a plain cup but I went upscale with Tina’s $12 Pampered Chef Tupperware measuring cup.

Tools of the Worm Whispering trade

2)  Find an unsuspecting worm and as demonstrated in this instructional video, slide the knife under the worm just aft of the Clitellum or Saddle, smoothly lift the specimen and plop it into your waiting worm carrier. You will soon figure out where the balance point is and if you worm whisper correctly, the worm will be limp and docile. The novice worm whisperer will startle their prey and they will rapidly contract and try to squirm away. It gets a little trickier to balance them on the knife but persevere to get the hang of it. If the worm has its head near some dirt, you have to be especially swift of hand before it deploys its setae. These are hair-like bristles so strong that you might pull the worm in two. Since worms can regrow the back half of their bodies, this is a defensive mechanism where a bird can get a meal and the worm can live another day.

A successful hunt! (Strangely, Tina doesn’t want her measuring cup back.)

3)  Remember to pace yourself. I have a recurring worm herding injury from so many deep knee bends.

4)  Gather worm movement intelligence from the neighbors and your significant others. Remember to reassure them you’re not some creepy person stalking their parking lots or some unemployed fisherman hunting for bait. When they understand your role as a worm protector and saviour, they are more likely to just view you as a harmless kook.

5)  Just like playoff hockey, worm whisper with your head up! Some of the best specimens are right in the middle of the road and you don’t want to end up squished like a worm. Speaking of squished worms, you can pick up the dead ones too as their bodies are good worm food and fertilizer for the garden.

Find an open, turned up section of your garden for your worm wriggle’s new home.

6) Once you’ve got a decent bunch or wriggle of worms, head back to your dirt pile. Keep an eye on them as they will squirm right out of their carrier. Find an open spot that has been turned up and loosely cover them in dirt. From there, let your worms do what worms do, ie. have worm sex, eat and poop.

Loosely cover to hide the worm hanky-panky, then enjoy your new worm farm.

Hopefully I have inspired more people to take up the profession or as I see it, the calling, of Worm Whispering. During the harvest you get lots of exercise and if you time it right, you can take a free shower in the rain. Later after a successful day of herding, you can relax by the garden and listen to your worms happily hump. Your summer garden and inner soul will thank you.

Happy hunting fellow Worm Whisperers!

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger (and Worm Whisperer) to the list.


The old-timey method of looking up the meaning of a word

Vulgarity in Society

In the past, vulgarity was referred to as using colorful language or swearing like a sailor. It was out of place during High Tea or while attending church. But amongst the first words  most young people want to learn in a new language are the ‘bad’ ones so you can sneak a few past your parents at the dinner table. Back in the day, the consequences were no worse than the threatened washing your mouth out with soap.

Fast forward to our Politically Correct climate where certain ‘trigger’ words seem to leave people ‘utterly devastated’. Blue Jay’s fielder, Kevin Pillar, yells the old term for a British smoke (fag) during the heat of the moment and he’s almost in tears afterwards in the press scrum talking about his 2 game suspension. Anaheim Ducks Captain, Ryan Getzlaf, shouted ‘Fucking Cocksucker’ at a referee during a game and received the highest fine the NHL is allowed to levy. The media immediately trotted out offended and disappointed homosexuals for their reactions and the last bastion of male dominance has been brought to their knees. Hockey players are literally beating each other black and blue with barely controlled violence but a tasteless insult offends and shocks the sensibilities to the point where it must be smote from on high?

Trigger words come and go as time changes what is culturally acceptable. Some heinous words are forbidden to utter under any circumstances. The ‘N’ word is so verboten, it caused a minor uproar during a recent Canadian Senate committee meeting that was debating the deletion of gender pronouns. The ‘C’ word that describes a nasty woman is an example of a particularly unpleasant retort that offends women of an older generation. Homophobic slurs that were very common to my generation have now been elevated to the infamous status of displaying a swastika or shouting ‘Sieg Heil’.

Offensive language is language and has been used throughout history. If you can get past the hurt feelings and censoring, it is interesting to learn where certain terms come from. ‘Cracker’ seems to have a long, rich history and was used to describe ‘white trailer trash’ as far back as the 1590’s. Quebecers were called ‘Pepsi’s‘ because they couldn’t afford the more expensive Coca Cola. Acadian swear words do not follow typical anatomical or sexual idioms and make little sense outside of the Roman Catholic context. Cup, tent or The Host (en francais, câlisse, tabarnak, osti) when used as vulgarity make people in Paris laugh because they sound like nonsense words. Chilean curses are a bit confusing depending on context. For example, ‘Weon‘ depending on who says it and the inflection can mean an endearing term for a buddy or a crude way of calling you a fucker. As for the Newfies, a faggot to them is a pile of half fried codfish, so heaven knows what they’re saying.

Coming back to the Senate meetings, it may seem silly that the larger populace may someday be criminally restrained from using gender pronouns because it offends the transgender and gay communities. But the fluffy, homogeneous, marshmallow PC censor’s goal is to make society as bland as tapioca pudding.  Label everything that could be possibly offensive to any minority group as hate speech (eg. Bill M-103) and you will be able to curb free speech and to guide us into their Orwellian future.

After a quick perusal of the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, I easily found each naughty word used in this essay and its meaning. Should we adopt Orwellian theory and have a good old fashioned electronic book burning erasing all traces of ‘offensive’ literature? Maybe instead of pulling our hair out over a few obnoxious insults, we should take a step back and put vulgar language into perspective. I don’t think a hurled word here and there needs the wrath of social justice raining down on the offender. Save that righteous indignation for those who preach and practise intolerance.

But instead, I fear the PC crowd will not be happy until Ministry of Truth Thought Police reprogram us all at the Ministry of Love.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


The utilitarian sandbag, aka this year’s Ontario and Quebec lawn ornament

Reformation of Canadian Emergency Measures

Irrespective of the political mantra of preparing for an increased frequency of fires, flood and pestilence in Canada due to climate change, the average person should be prepared to go 72 hours relying on their own resources before expecting help from government services. Considering a significant number of people still die from BBQ Carbon Monoxide poisoning after the heat goes out, I would say the average person is woefully under-prepared to fend for themselves.

This last round of flooding in Quebec demonstrated the short-comings of our collective response to fluid situations during a disaster response. To begin with, the municipalities who are the front line responders to a crisis are also the same people who authorized putting people into harm’s way to begin with! Land and home owners are local governments largest source of tax income. Yes, the home owner should be doing some due diligence but they are relying on a real estate agent who is trying to make a sale and a hope that the municipality wouldn’t have zoned a house to be built in an unsafe area. Local politicians need to be operating more at arm’s length from the process. But it works out as a good deal because they’re playing the odds of a natural catastrophe being low and then if one does happen, they know the Federal government will pick up the tab. If I were the Feds, I would set up a different system to mitigate zoning habitation in known danger areas.

The next major change should be a more robust role for the military. As the system stands in Canada, a provincial government has to make a formal request for help to the Federal government for the troops to come in. This is called Aid to the Civil Power. Usually after a situation gets away from the local authority, the cries are heard of why wasn’t the military called sooner? There are many reasons such as:

  • Provincial and local officials/organizations do not have the experience to know when they’re getting over their heads. They have neither the training nor knowledge to adequately respond to larger incidents and can quickly be overwhelmed.
  • There may be a reluctance to call the military due to past incidents and prejudices. Oka officials weren’t too keen to have the troops come help in their flooded community.[1]
  • Pride is a factor. Newfoundland officials were reticent to call in the military in the aftermath of Hurricane Igor. Premier Danny Williams wasn’t a big supporter of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and this probably led to a delay in acceptance of federal aid.[2]
  • Perceived costs related to military aid are a factor. By the books, if the military is called in, the province is to pick up the tab. In reality, the Federal government will tally up a bill but only collects partial or no payment.

Under Minister Ralph Goodale, Public Safety Canada[3] coordinates the response to natural disasters. Their efforts trickle down to provincial, city and municipal Emergency Preparedness offices with varying success. Some jurisdictions such as Vancouver are very well prepared but that was because of the lead up to the Winter Olympic Games. One of the best legacies to come from that event was the implementation of E-Comm. E-Comm is a pan-communications system whereby all the disparate emergency services can talk to one another. Previously, the Lower Mainland’s many services wouldn’t have been able to coordinate relief efforts after a significant incident, such as an earthquake. But most areas of Canada don’t have the luxury of monies showered upon them for emergency preparedness, so they make do.

This is why military personnel should be co-managing the Emergency Management Centers (EMCs) similar to the model of the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers. Provincial officials and agencies lack the resources, knowledge and management experience of military personnel. They may run the occasional exercise to test their responsiveness but running exercises is the military’s raison d’etre. Military personnel typically have more experience dealing with, planning for and managing actual emergency situations. From day one in Basic, you’re put under pressure and taught how to survive, function and lead with little sleep, food, supplies or resources. This training plus a substantial bank of discipline, knowledge and expertise is continually honed throughout their entire career. During Brigadier General Turenne’s Operation LENTUS presentation[4] on the recent New Brunswick ice storm military response, he said that you could see the relief of the civilian responders immediately once the troops appeared. The locals were quickly becoming overwhelmed after a few days by even the simple tasks. As the BGen explained, his troops are agile, adaptable, scalable and responsive. Civilian officials/organizers/responders do not have the built-in tools, training or experience of military personnel at managing larger scale emergencies.

Since the military is going to back-stop the efforts of the local authorities, they should have a louder voice on the timing of the deployment and should be able to side-step the provincial officials. Currently, the admirals and generals are already keeping tabs on the domestic front through regular briefings on their areas of responsibility. They are well aware of possible problem incidents and if need be start the Warning Order process and concurrent activity in order to lean forward as much as possible. Their hands are somewhat tied as they have to wait for their official government marching orders. They’ll prod the provincial officials to consider calling for help sooner than later. Meanwhile, military units are quietly pre-positioning resources and personnel because they know the call is coming. If we already had military in the EMCs, they would be able to recognize the need for higher assistance earlier and would bring expertise to the table that their civilian counterparts are lacking. In the Navy or the Air force you’re taught to stay ahead of the ship or aircraft, not to swim in the wake.

The burning of the Town of Slave Lake in 2011 is a good example of when military management would have been more successful. The whole disaster could have been mitigated or avoided all together by the simple accessing of a weather briefing. Military members are constantly receiving or giving briefings in order to disseminate pertinent information. Every briefing starts with a Met Tech report on the forecast weather with associated meteorological products. I’m pretty sure the response to the small wildfires outside of town would have been beefed up if someone had paid attention to the forecast windstorm with its associated 100 kph gusts approaching. Even the Final Report on the Lessons Learned[5] from the fire makes no mention of keeping an eye on weather forecasts.  Civilians have access to important resources but they are either unaware or are ignorant of how to use them.

Minister Goodale noted in a recent press conference that they were going to take another look at the mechanism for responding to future Canadian disasters. Provincial officials should be given less latitude and the Federal government should give the military more latitude to respond without waiting for the red tape, egos and inexperienced civilians to catch up with fast flowing events. The Federal government is effectively picking up the tab anyways and the experts in the military should be running the show.

[1] The Oka Grand Chief unilaterally decided to decline the military’s offer of assistance citing possible hard feelings from the Oka crisis that occurred 27 years ago. Despite an all-out band effort, 30 homes were flooded and 8 were evacuated.

[2] The destructive force of Hurricane Igor was well predicted ahead of time. In addition, calls for federal assistance were delayed or never made. This exasperated the recovery of the storm’s victims.

[3] Public Safety Canada website.

[4] A PDF copy of BGen Turenne’s Operation LENTUS 17-01 presentation.

[5] PDF copy of Lesser Slave Lake Regional Urban Interface Wildfire – Lessons Learned.



Doc displaying his ‘Indication’ upon finding human remains during a training exercise. Photo courtesy of Natasha Dilkie

RCMP HRD Dog – Innovative Research in Nova Scotia

(Original article published on RUSI(NS) website)

On May 10, 2017, as part of their Distinguished Speaker program, the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia was privileged to arrange a presentation by Natasha Dilkie, MSc, titled “Human Remains Detection: Validity of Dog Training using Donated Human Remains in the Province of Nova Scotia.” The presentation was generously hosted by the RCMP at their “H” Division headquarters in Dartmouth and was well attended by RUSI(NS) members and guests including representatives of the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service (NSMES) and Halifax Regional Police.

In cooperation with the NSMES and the RCMP, Natasha is pioneering Canadian research in the field of human remains detection (HRD) dog training. They are not the first who have worked with HRD dogs, also known as cadaver dogs, as there are other Canadian organizations with them. But with the help of RCMP dog handler Constable Brian Veniot and a six year old German Shepherd named Doc, they are Canada’s first team to be trained on donated human remains through the NSMES procurement program.

Originally, Doc started his RCMP career at the Halifax airport sniffing for explosives. In 2014, he was picked for the new HRD program, spearheaded by NSMES, who had brought in the scientific and research expertise of Natasha. From the videos during the presentation, it is obvious that this remarkable dog is proficient at his work.

Doc as a fresh, young RCMP recruit. Photo courtesy of NS RCMP

As Natasha explained, other parts of the world such as the US or Europe have led the way with HRD/cadaver dog research and use for many years now. In the aftermath of 9/11, when the search and rescue canine units had done all that they could do, the cadaver dog units came in to help pinpoint human remains. These dogs are unsung heroes who provide grieving families with closure after the tragedy of losing a loved one. Although rare, a need for the same capability is required in Canada. Generally this task falls to specialized police units such as the RCMP Underwater Recovery Team or volunteer search and rescue organizations. Talented dogs like Doc would be another resource to enable these organizations to complete timely and safer recoveries of human remains.

The audience received an enlightening education on the amazing capabilities of these hard-working animals. Dogs in general have millions more scent receptors compared to a human. Some particular breeds like German Shepherds, Bloodhounds or Cocker Spaniels are even more suited as scent dogs due to temperament and agility, and are widely used for a variety of purposes by police, military and emergency agencies. Here are just some of the abilities of these dogs:

  • Research has shown that their scent sensitivity can be as high as parts per trillion.
  • A dog can retain the memory of a particular scent for up to four weeks.
  • Even if a body has been moved, a dog can pick up the scent many weeks later.
  • Properly trained dogs are adept at finding bodies no matter their location or state of decay. The only real limiting factor is extreme cold.
  • Even victims underwater can be detected. Some UK cadaver dogs have found human remains in depths of 30 feet!

If you did not have enough reasons to sign your Organ Donor’s card and talk to your family about your final wishes, Natasha gave us another one. Humans have a unique scent signature when they pass away that is difficult to synthesize and cannot be replicated with animal remains. Due to this, it is critical for HRD dogs to use actual human remains for training. To that end, after obtaining next-of-kin permission, many NS families and organ donors have generously consented to allow their remains to be used for this important research and training.

Natasha’s vision is to further her research and training to the point where protocols, procedures and HRD dog teams are available to every Canadian province and major police force. To that end she will continue to research and work with Constable Veniot and Doc, liaise with other HRD experts from around the world, and present her work to various stakeholder groups. She has already presented her findings to various Police Associations and is scheduled to do a poster presentation at the 2017 Toronto International Association of Forensic Sciences Conference.

More of Natasha Dilkie’s professional activities and HRD research can be accessed at her LinkedIn profile.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


Update to The Insanity of Canadian Family Justice

Well, it’s been an extra three months since I wrote the original blog on my SOB story about trying to wring a modicum of justice out of the Canadian Family Court System. I am sad to report that I am even further behind in my fight, I’m in a tighter spiral and the ground is coming up fast! I absolutely understand how people can contemplate violent solutions to this type of problem.

Contrary to advice from Legal Aid, NS lawyers and the NS Family Supreme Court, I cannot fight my court battles here from NS. Even though the NS Government site has step by step guidelines for Interjurisdictional Support Orders, a judge on April 13 took about five minutes to dismiss my case as not part of her jurisdiction. Her only advice for me was to contact a lawyer. Poof! Four months of my life wasted on this particular legal goose chase plus another $8000+ added to the arrears tally.

So, I’m now at the point where the only choice I have left is to balloon the credit card that I’m barely able to make minimum payments on in the faint hope that I can buy some justice. Thankfully, I was finally able to speak to a knowledgeable NS lawyer who basically said I have to fight this in BC with a lawyer there. Well, back to the drawing board I went and randomly found a firm that had someone who would listen to me at $220/hr. A $2500 retainer later (on the credit card) and we’ll fight the first fight to get NS Family Maintenance off my back for the $2150/mth Spousal Support. This particular bill keeps ratcheting upwards with the assorted multi-hundred dollar fines each and every month. I might get a two to three month reprieve whenever we can get a court date and a court order. Who knows how long that will take but I’m not holding my breath. The court and Family Maintenance will be pushing hard for me to find work because they will be calling me a slacker irrespective of the employment climate here in the Maritimes (ie. I’m not from here, few connections plus high unemployment…good luck to me) Also, I can’t take a low paying job, again since I was making so much before, they’ll again accuse me of slacking. Conversely, Heidi has no such pressure to better her position. She can just slide along where she’s at and will never have to change a thing about looking for better employment. Double standard maybe?!?

Oh, and get this: no matter what situation she is in with her new husband and their standard of living, in all likelihood, I will have to pay her a substantial amount of Spousal Support for the rest of her life! But that’s fight number two after I get the court to acknowledge that I physically can’t comply with their present Court Order. Cha-ching, that’ll be a few more thousands of dollars for the lawyer.

Whenever I speak to lawyers about my situation, my blood begins to boil and the anger wells up. It was obvious she had heard this same anger from others in my situation. She agreed with me that the law was stupid but it is how the game is rigged. Hey, we’re mostly middle-aged white guys, why not stick it to us? She was also curious about the high amount of arrears that had been levied against me. I told her that I had placed the welfare of my university kids and grandchild ahead of the ex. I couldn’t help them as much as I wanted to financially over the years but I did the best that I could. The lawyer stated that my financial obligations were to my ex and not my children. How sick and twisted is the law to put her needs totally ahead of the kids? I already know how much of a greedy b*tch she is but it’s sad that the law is slanted so much.

So, to sum up, waiting on the BC lawyer to draw up the necessary court documents that need serving on Heidi and registered with the BC Supreme Court. Then we wait for a court date. Then hopefully there is some justice and a court order that makes some sense. Then I have to take a certified original copy of that order to the NS Supreme Court and register it with them. Then that gets transmitted to NS Family Maintenance and they might be off my back for a month or two. Then somewhere in there, I might be gainfully employed and may be able to keep from going bankrupt over the credit card exploding. Then we start the whole merry-go-round up again to see what the next round of Spousal Support will be.

P.S. Heidi, her lawyer and her Family Maintenance minions are working overtime to drain me dry. Their zeal would make the guards at Auschwitz blush. So in addition to the threat of randomly revoking my driver’s license and passport (which may have already happened as they weren’t going to give me notice), I found out the other day that they’re taking even more of my EI payments. They were garnishing $460/every two weeks leaving me $460 to live on. Last week, the bank account looked even sadder than normal and I see they’re giving her $498 and I only get $422 now. That’s why my daughter’s birthday card will only have well wishes instead of a 20 or two.

Again, if you happen to come across Heidi Jensen or her husband Don Croitor who live in Victoria, BC, feel free to ask them how they can live with themselves.

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