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London, Ont., police trip for international competition in Dubai under review

A southwestern Ontario police force is facing scrutiny for its decision to send a team to an international competition in Dubai, an event that saw its members training with and competing against a Russian special unit whose members are accused of committing atrocities in Ukraine.

The London Police Services Board has launched a review of the approval process for the force’s participation in the UAE Swat Challenge competition, which saw dozens of units from various countries face off in tactical, rescue and obstacle course events in late January and early February.

The London, Ont., police service was the only Canadian force to participate. Two U.S. police forces, the New York Police Department and the San Antonio Police Department, also sent delegations.

Participants also included the Akhmat unit from the Russian republic of Chechnya, a group that has been accused of committing atrocities in the conflict with Ukraine. The unit’s victory in an event on the fourth day was celebrated in a ceremony attended by Adam Kadyrov, son of the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, according to a press release.

Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is among the individuals under economic sanctions from the Canadian government.

London’s police chief and mayor acknowledged the police board’s review but declined to comment on whether it was appropriate to attend the competition in light of the Akhmat unit’s participation.

“I am prepared to engage fully in the board’s review as we continue to ensure our members receive the best possible training to perform their duties effectively and safely,” police Chief Thai Truong said in an emailed statement earlier this week.

He said the cost of the trip was reduced to $15,700 from $115,000 after discussions with Dubai police, the event’s hosts.

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“As chief, I am committed to ensuring our members have access to world-class training opportunities and I supported the opportunity for our members to train, compete, and learn from over 70 different (Emergency Response Unit) teams from around the world in Dubai, who are considered among the best internationally,” he said.

Asked again about training alongside the Chechen unit, Truong’s office declined to comment further.

London Mayor Josh Morgan, who sits on the police board, said he supports its decision in “directing administration to outline specific financial and procedural considerations governing not only the approval of this specific training competition, but also the approval process governing similar training opportunities for our service.”

Morgan said he could not comment further so as not to compromise the review process.

London city Coun. Steve Lehman, another member of the board, also expressed support for the review but declined to comment for the same reason. The board’s chair, Ali Chahbar, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto, said the London force’s participation in the event “damages the image of Canada,” and there is “no reasonable justification” for it even if little taxpayer money was spent.

“When you are doing anything internationally, you have to also be aware of the image of the country, it’s not just a local matter. And so there’s an extra duty,” said Braun, who is also an associate with the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

“So I don’t know what motivated participation here, whether it was negligence — gross negligence — utter stupidity, or what,” he said.

He said it will be important to find out exactly how the decision to attend was made — and equally important to impose penalties severe enough to deter similar decisions in the future.

Braun suggested there should be resignations over the decision, and drew parallels with an incident last year that saw the speaker of the House of Commons step down after inviting a man who fought for a Nazi military unit to Parliament.

“In Ukraine, the Kadyrov clan is a great supporter of aggression, they are a great supporter of the Putin regime. So how on earth can we … consider it justified participating in the event where these people are featured?”

The competition’s website says it is meant to “foster an exchange of tactical techniques and skills among international SWAT teams.” Other participating countries this year included Belarus, China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Two units from Dubai placed first and second, with the Chechen team coming in eighth. The London force was in the bottom 10.

The top winners take home monetary prizes as high as $80,000, and there are daily prizes of up to $5,000 for the winners of each challenge.

&copy 2024 The Canadian Press


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