This year marks the 40th anniversary of Emergency Response Teams (ERT) at CSC. When disturbances and riots present the possibility of serious injury to staff and the use of negotiations is inappropriate or has identified a situation as high risk, the services of a highly trained and disciplined ERT can be deployed to bring the situation to a conclusion.
During the 1970s, the Canadian Penitentiary Service (prior to being named CSC) experienced a sharp increase in the number of violent incidents and hostage takings within its institutions. In response to this crisis, the House of Commons appointed a Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs to inquire into the penitentiary system in Canada. The Parliamentary Sub-Committee on the Penitentiary System in Canada, chaired by Mark MacGuigan, acknowledged that hostage-takings were “…a comparatively new phenomenon” within the penitentiary environment. In 1977, Canada’s first ERT Program was established. Two pilot courses were conducted for Regional Emergency Response Teams. The focus was on a tactical firearms approach, and they were called in for hostage takings or when weapons were required.
After a review in 1979, the Regional Emergency Response Team training program was discontinued in favour of a more comprehensive approach. The ERT training program was further developed and enhanced to deal with cell extractions, range disturbances and riots, and a more in-depth program utilizing physical handling, chemical agents, shields and batons was created. ERTs were established in each maximum and medium security institution.
From the ERT’s first tactical firearms approach in the late seventies, CSC moved through the eighties emphasizing a non-lethal approach. Over 90% of ERT situations required no use of firearms, as teams used the skills learned for physical handling, chemical agents, shields and batons to restore order and control of their institutions.
However, another unexpected increase in hostage takings in the early 1990s led to another review of the tactical program and the hostage negotiator training program. As a result, a new and updated crisis negotiator training program and a concentrated tactical program were developed.
In 2012, under the governance of the Learning and Development Branch and in collaboration with the Security Branch, a review of ERT training was undertaken and in 2014 a revised and broadened ERT training was implemented.
Today, ERTs continue to provide a necessary service by responding to cell extractions, range disturbances, riots and hostage takings, ultimately minimizing injury to staff and offenders in our institutions.