Federal organized crime team stymied
by lack of rental space in Osoyoos

Contributed photo/CBSA – Mounties are having a difficult time finding office space near the Canada-U.S. border crossing in Osoyoos.

Special to OsoyoosToday

Its members are responsible for hunting down international drug traffickers and human smugglers, but a team from the RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime division can’t seem to find suitable office space to rent in Osoyoos.

Efforts to secure a new headquarters date back at least three years, according to an October 2015 business case obtained by The Penticton Herald through an access to information request, which itself took a year to process.

Little has changed in the meantime, though.

“To date, no space has been leased but FSOC is in the process of looking for appropriate work space,” B.C. RCMP spokeswoman Annie Linteau said in an email that did not elaborate on the delay.

South Okanagan Real Estate Board president Pamela Hanson suggested the commercial market has been, and remains, tight in Osoyoos: As of Monday, there were 22 commercial properties listed for sale, but just three available for lease.

The business case indicates Mounties are trying to rent an office building with attached garage and warehouse space – the total required area of which was redacted – to house 13 officers from FSOC who are attached to Integrated Border Enforcement Team 3.

Such teams operate in 15 regions across the country, bringing together members of the RCMP, Canada Border Services Agency and counterparts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

When the business case was authored, the Mounties assigned to IBET Team 3 were stationed in Nelson, Creston and Osoyoos, creating a logistical nightmare.

“Members often find they are regularly required to travel from their regular worksites in Creston and Nelson to the FSOC building in Osoyoos. During a recent international project-level investigation, members lived in commercial accommodations for a number of months in Osoyoos,” the report explained.

“This situation caused a great deal of personal sacrifice for members and their families. It also placed constraints on the amount of investigative hours actually worked due to extensive travel involved.

“As well, a significant expense to the investigation was incurred, as the majority of Team 3 was in travel status.”

To help address those concerns, RCMP brass put together the business case to study four options for relocating all team members to Osoyoos: lease space; purchase land and hire a company to design and build an office; purchase an existing building and retrofit it; or partner with another governmental organization.

The two options that involved buying land or a building were rejected out of hand.

“The current fiscal climate precludes any available non-contract or capital funding to purchase land (or existing space) and construct accommodations,” the report notes.

Partnering with another group was also ruled out, as “there are limited government organizations operating in the Osoyoos area.”

The business case then goes on to explore six different lease arrangements, with the preferred option seeing Mounties spend $1.6 million to outfit the new office, which would then cost an estimated $147,000 per year in rent and operating expenses.

That would have represented a $2,000 annual savings on what the force spent in 2013 to rent three separate offices in Creston, Nelson and Osoyoos.

The business case was built upon a third-party market survey conducted in March 2014, plus a request for expressions of interest in October 2014. It notes as a risk to the project, however, the “limited availability of suitable accommodations in Osoyoos.”

Joe Fries is an editor and writer with the Penticton Herald.

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