(This column was published in the North Shore News on Feb. 4, 2004)
The feds facilitate organized port crime
By Leo Knight
I think that seven years ago the federal government made one of the most reckless decisions possible when they eliminated the Ports Canada Police.
Then finance minister Paul Martin forced the issue to save something in the area of $25 million to $45 million, depending on who you ask and how the counting is done. While he was busy squirrelling away that money and turning the ports over to organized crime, he was tossing a billion or so at former justice minister Anne McLellan to force Uncle Irvin to register his shotgun.
All the while the government was chanting the mantra that the gun registry would make us safer.
Then came Sept. 11.
In the intervening time, Sen. Colin Kenney chaired a senate committee on national security and the military. The final report produced was scathing in its criticisms of the way our ports were secured. They focused on the penetration made by organized crime and the connections to the unions that controlled much of what occurred all the way from North Vancouver terminals across the inlet to the major container ports in Vancouver to the West End gang controlled Port of Montreal and the Hells Angels domination in the Port of Halifax.
It has been more than two years since Sept. 11 and 1 1/2 years since Kenney's report. Unfortunately, little has changed. And that's not surprising I suppose, given the Liberal's record on fighting the menace of organized crime in other arenas.
In November, the Quebec newspaper La Presse reported that the RCMP would be setting up detachments on the ports of Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver. According to La Presse, the Mounties will be focusing on terrorism, smuggling and organized crime. Their intention is to be an augmentation to the efforts of Canada Customs and the private security agencies contracted to patrol the ports after the Ports Police were sent packing.
As of Jan. 1, the ports are controlling access and everyone working on the docks will have to have photo ID, indicating they have been vetted.
Now that's a hoot.
Is a criminal record going to be a barrier to working on the docks? If so, then I'm going to bet there is going to be a major recruiting push on. Longshoremen have a rep for being heavy-drinking, two-fisted hard asses. Not to mention the 40 or so Hells Angels and associates who are members of the ILWU or otherwise have regular access anywhere they want in the Port of Vancouver.
But despite this new push, which really is little more than window dressing so they can say they are doing something to secure the gaping hole the ports present in this country's security, Kenney came out swinging on the weekend saying that nothing much has changed in the intervening time since he released the scathing report.
News reports on the weekend carried Kenney stating that right now, the St. Lawrence River seaway, is without any policing at all. Kenney was in Slovenia when he made the statement. Why he was using Slovenia as a backdrop for these remarks is a little puzzling. But Kenney might have been also talking about the Port of Halifax or indeed the Port of Vancouver.
Kenney explained that you could have a dirty bomb that would sit in the back of a sport utility vehicle easily. And that you could put that in the back of a vehicle, put the vehicle inside a container and move it through the port without anyone batting an eye. Kenney's comments unleashed a flurry of denials and empty explanations from an assortment of port bureaucrats from coast to coast. But the most ridiculous of the comments came from a spokesman for the Vancouver Port Authority, who was quoted as saying that there was a mandate for the movement of cargo and that there was no mandate provided to them to look into criminal activities of people on the waterfront.
Well isn't that great? This is willful blindness.
And interestingly enough, is almost verbatim to what was said in 1996 to then attorney general Ujjal Dosanjh by Capt. Norman Stark on behalf of the Vancouver Port Corp.
Organized crime uses our ports to smuggle everything from heroin to guns to illegal immigrants.
There is the prospect of terrorist groups at war with Canada, exploiting the gaping weaknesses in our national security all the while those responsible for the ports are ducking their responsibility.
And if that's not bad enough all the money the Liberals saved by eradicating the Ports Police has gone for naught. Once the bill for private security patrols and the new RCMP detachments or squads are paid for, the stupidity of the government's original policy becomes obvious.
On Sunday, the North Shore News ran a story about the local luminaries who are lining up to try and ride the coattails of Paul Martin to a seat in the House of Commons. Interesting they would want to ally themselves with someone who has left this country so vulnerable to organized crime and terrorist attacks. Unless all they really want is a chance to belly up to the public trough.
Perhaps it's time to ask Don Bell, Phil Boname and all the other wannabees what they think of all this.