Prime Minister Stephen Harper is touring cities in India using armour-clad vehicles that were shipped from Canada – a measure normally used in extremely unsafe areas such as Afghanistan.
This extraordinary security provision raises questions about why the Indian government did not furnish Mr. Harper with adequately protected vehicles. India provides bulletproof cars for other VIPs when they visit.
The Prime Minister was seen travelling through Agra on Monday in a Black Chevy Suburban-type vehicle with Ontario licence plates. In Delhi, he was spotted in an armoured Cadillac, also with Ontario plates.
Mr. Harper is in the midst of a six-day trip to India to rekindle flagging trade deal talks that include treaties on selling nuclear material to the South Asian country, a foreign-investor protection agreement and a free trade accord.
The Prime Minister’s Office wouldn’t comment on the security measure, referring calls to the RCMP, which also had little to say. The Indian government, however, disputed the notion it hadn’t offered Mr. Harper sufficient protection. An Indian government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said New Delhi offered Mr. Harper heavily protected and modern cars, with drivers and armed personnel, for his visit to the South Asian country.
“Your government preferred to bring in their own,” the Indian official said. “The Indian government had offered bulletproof Mercedes, S-Class, at all the places, whether Delhi or Agra or Chandigarh and Bangalore,” the official said.
Canadian officials denied this was the offer from India. They said, instead, that New Delhi offered Mr. Harper the Mercedes in one city and a 1960s-era Ambassador car in the others. The Hindustan Ambassador is a boxy and relatively small car made by India’s Hindustan Motors using a design that’s little changed from 40 years ago.
The Prime Minister’s Protection Detail, as it’s called, has been beefed up in recent years. Its budget was on track to reach $20-million this year, or twice the 2006 cost.
The PMO and the RCMP say the increase in costs is justifiable, since security concerns are growing and threats are now taken more seriously.
Ottawa would need to use a heavy-lift plane such as a C-17 Globemaster to transport armoured cars to India from Canada.
PMO director of communications Andrew MacDougall declined to discuss the Prime Minister’s security arrangements.
“The RCMP is responsible for the security of the Prime Minister and they make those decisions – and they will comment on those decisions,” he said.
Corporal Lucy Shorey with the RCMP in Ottawa refused to discuss security arrangements for the Prime Minister.
“The deployment of RCMP resources are dictated by operational requirements, including public and officer safety considerations, and a threat assessment of the events [and] environments,” she said in a prepared statement.