NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen are travelling through India’s streets this week in armoured vehicles shipped from Canada, raising questions about a heightened security risk for the PM in India.
Both the prime minister’s office and the RCMP, though, were being tight-lipped about the Canadian armoured cars.
“The RCMP makes the operational decisions about the prime minister’s security,” said Andrew MacDougall, the prime minister’s chief spokesman.
RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Lucy Shorey declined to comment on security arrangements.
“The deployment of RCMP resources are dictated by operational requirements, including public and officer safety considerations, and a threat assessment of the events/environment,” Shorey said in an e-mailed statement.
In Agra, Harper’s first stop on his six-day tour of the world’s most populous democracy, Harper was ferried to events in a black Suburban bearing Ontario license plates. Ontario plates were also on the black Cadillac limousine Harper is using here in the Indian capital.
The U.S. Secret Service routinely ships its own motorcade vehicles abroad, including to Canada, for use by the president. The Secret Service boasts that “The Beast”, as the president’s vehicle is called, is the most secure and sophisticated car on the planet.
When the U.S. ships “The Beast” abroad, it travels on U.S. Air Force C-17s.
Canada, in 2007, acquired its own fleet of C-17s – giant cargo planes big enough to hold a tank, or a couple of armoured cars.
The use of Canadian vehicles abroad come with additional cost.
The budget for the RCMP security detail assigned to protect the PM and other VIPs has jumped from about $10.7 million in 2007 to $18 million this year. Part of the rise in cost is the frequency and duration of the PM’s overseas trips.
But cost and logistics aside, the use of Canadian vehicles in India raises questions about an apparent difference in the security risk assessment for Harper’s India trip this year compared to Harper’s 2009 trip to India. In 2009, when Harper visited Mumbai, New Delhi and Amritsar, Indian security agencies provided Harper with the vehicles he used.
And when Harper travelled to England, Russia, Australia or China, the RCMP have used cars provisioned from those countries.
Before this India trip, only in Afghanistan and in Haiti have the RCMP flown in Canadian armoured cars for Harper’s use.