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Members of a Canadian search and rescue team work at a destroyed building in Adiyaman, Turkey, on Feb. 12.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Hours after two major earthquakes rocked southwestern Turkey and northwestern Syria last month, the B.C. government offered Ottawa the services of the Vancouver Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team, also known as Canada Task Force 1. It is available for deployment 24/7, 365 days a year, but it never got the go-ahead from the federal government to help.

The team is not internationally certified – the same as the five other HUSAR task forces operating in the country. As a result, they cannot be offered by the Canadian government to assist in disaster zones around the world, even though their expertise is in demand.

There are no plans to change this. Instead, according to statements from two federal departments, Canada is working to ensure its domestic teams have a standard certification to allow them to deploy for national assignments.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, a spokesperson for Global Affairs said “work is under way to create a domestic, interprovincial deployment capability using the United Nations International Search and Rescue Advisory Group standards.”

And in a follow-up statement, a spokesman from Public Safety Canada said there is no plan to ensure such teams are certified so they can be deployed internationally. Rather, the focus is on applying the INSARAG standard to teams across Canada for national assignments.

“Canada does not currently have any teams certified for international deployment and is not pursuing international accreditation at this time,” said Louis-Carl Brissette-Lesage from Public Safety Canada.

Canada Task Force 1 is jointly funded by the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government. The team comprises members of Vancouver Fire Rescue Services, the Vancouver Police Department and BC Emergency Health Services, plus City of Vancouver staff and medical professionals.

A 10-person volunteer team from Burnaby, B.C., was the only rescue crew from Canada that helped in the quake zones in Turkey. It was able to help because the self-funded NGO does not go through the federal government to offer its services, but instead communicates with international governments directly.

Shawn Mohammed of the Burnaby Urban Search and Rescue team said his group is not INSARAG accredited, but it is trained to the equivalent standard.

This means countries “have the authority to say, ‘You know what, we’re okay with that, come on board,’” he said.

The Burnaby team, made up of firefighters and retired first responders, spent a week in Adiyaman, Turkey, and rescued a woman trapped for more than four days under rubble. They left Vancouver a day after the quakes happened, and returned home to a hero’s welcome on Feb. 14.

According to B.C.’s Ministry of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness, it contacted Public Safety Canada about the situation in Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6 to offer support.

The ministry said in a statement that B.C. can only deploy Canada Task Force 1 internationally under established agreements, and the request must come from the federal government. Ottawa never extended the offer, the City of Vancouver confirmed in a statement.

Pinar Yapici, counsellor for the embassy of Turkey in Ottawa, said that soon after the devastating tremor rocked her country Turkish embassies around the world conveyed international assistance requests to other governments. Turkish officials in Canada sought search-and-rescue teams, medical equipment and supplies that would help people to survive the winter freeze, she said.

More than two dozen countries sent first responders to the quake zone. Those who dispatched search-and-rescue teams or specialists included the United States, Britain, Spain, Germany, South Korea, South Africa, Israel and Mexico.

Canada pledged $10-million in financial support and sent a disaster-assessment team.

Ms. Yapici, in an interview with The Globe, said she was grateful for Canada’s assistance, but added: “There’s always more than you can do in such extraordinary and massive earthquakes.”

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