The Canadian Forces spent $2.4 million last year on training at a facility run by Xe Services, the U.S. private security company formerly known as Blackwater.
The company and its training facility were used to teach precision shooting and defensive driving, as well as VIP escort requirements and close quarter combat techniques, according to documents tabled Monday in the House of Commons.
It appears the training provided by Xe instructors was for precision shooting and defensive driving. The documents note much of the training in VIP escorting and close quarter combat was done by CF instructors and standards personnel.
Special forces members also had precision shooting and defensive driving training at the facility, although for operational security reasons the government wouldn't say how many trained there.
The Department of National Defence made 14 call-ups in 2011 against a standing offer arrangement with Xe, for a total of $567,729, the documents say. Public Works, which is in charge of federal procurement, made another six call-ups and awarded one contract, spending $1,819,023.48. The total spent between the two departments in 2011 was $2,396,346.86.
The training provided at the facility is specialized and used primarily for snipers and soldiers who do close personal protection, as well as those who drive non-military vehicles like armoured SUVs while protecting VIPs or diplomats in hostile environments such as Libya or Afghanistan.
The facility is known in the defence community to be unique because of training involving live fire in a ship simulator or in a complex building structure, and driving courses that involve live fire. It's widely used by U.S. government and law enforcement, and is accredited by the U.S. government.
Facility used since 1997
Since 2005, 605 Canadian Forces soldiers have been trained at Blackwater or Xe. Some of the money was paid to rent the facility, known as the United States Training Center, but used Canadian Forces trainers to teach, the documents say.
"Note that this figure merely reflects the number of CF personnel who were trained at the facility; a number of CF elements provided their own instructors and simply utilized the facilities."
A spokesman for the Department of National Defence says the Canadian Forces have been using the U.S. Training Center since 1997. The forces can't always train in Canada because the facilities don't exist, can't accommodate the volume of training, or can't be used due to adverse weather conditions, he said.
"This type of training is highly specialized and is only required by a small portion of the CF. Contracting facilities for short periods of time is the most cost effective alternative to investing in expensive infrastructure that will only be used a few times a year to meet these unique training requirements," John Dacombe said in a statement.
"Recently, more private companies have emerged and established similar facilities, which provide the CF with a wider range of options to meet its future training requirements."
The Canadian Forces typically provide their own training, Dacombe said, but when those trainers aren't available, they hire outside trainers.
There is more training scheduled at the facility in 2012.
Blackwater a source of controversy
Blackwater, a private security contractor used widely in Iraq and Afghanistan, changed its name to Xe Services in 2009 and then changed it again last December to Academi.
The company's website says it has assisted in more than 60,000 security missions in the past seven years in hostile environments. It has also provided training to more than 10,000 foreign military and counterterrorism specialists, law enforcement agents and 50,000 U.S. government personnel.
It has also been a source of controversy, after a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed 17 Iraqis. It led the Iraqi government to deny the company a licence renewal. Last year, a U.S. appeals court revived a manslaughter case against four ex-Blackwater Worldwide guards involved in the shooting.
The company's website says it has a 28-square-kilometre (7,000-acre) training centre in Moyock, N.C., the largest private training centre in the U.S. The training centre includes 50 tactical ranges, three ship-boarding simulators, two airfields and three drop zones, as well as a tactical driving track and explosive training ranges.
The Canadian government has had a standing offer arrangement with Xe since 2008.
"The SOA was awarded without a competitive bid process, because it was assessed that Xe Services had the only facility capable of meeting the operational requirements for specialized training of CF personnel," the documents say.