An Ottawa fire department sniffer dog team used in arson investigations to detect gasoline and other accelerants is being partially paid for by a national insurance company.

Critics of the arrangement say it's a conflict of interest that needs to stop, but others say there's nothing wrong with the agreement between the fire department and the Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company.

"If we have a business partner who wants to work with the city to provide better service in an area and it doesn't effect how that service is done, as we do in this case, then I think this type of arrangement is reasonable," said Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans, who chairs the city's protective services committee.

"This insurance company is a direct stakeholder in exactly what's being investigated by this dog team. It's not ethical for us to accept money from a private company to fund investigations the company has an interest in," Mr. Cullen said.

Capt. Ian Wade and a black Labrador retriever, Fiesta, were trained in Nashville by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives late last year and started work early this year.

The dog is trained to sniff out materials such as gasoline and kerosene, which are often used in arson cases. Dogs are considered more adept at doing this than any other investigation tool. When the dog smells an accelerant, it sits down and investigators take samples from the area for testing.

According to a fire department report to be handed to the City of Ottawa's protective services' committee next week, there's a five-year, $75,000 deal with the insurance company that covers roughly 50 per cent of the team's operating costs.

"The team is presently funded through a sponsorship program whereby companies and individuals can donate funds and in-kind services in exchange for sponsorship recognition," the report says.

The department's chief of special operations, Kim Ayotte, said that when the department started looking at such a program, they examined models in the U.S., where insurance companies fund many such teams.

He said several insurance companies were approached, and only Dominion came forward. He said the department is still seeking other sponsorships from dog-food companies and would accept more funding from insurance firms.

Mr. Ayotte said city lawyers were consulted, and they said there was no conflict of interest issues with having the insurance company sponsor the program. He also said the firm has no control over the team and cannot ask for any special treatment in return for the money.

Joseph Obagi, a civil lawyer with experience in arson cases, and Mr. Cullen, however, beg to differ. They say the arrangement is blurring the lines between public and private interests.

This is cache, read story here