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Ottawa needs to focus on real security priorities

Vancouver Sun - May 19, 2015


Gangsters infiltrating and influencing waterfront unions has been a major trope since New York Sun reporter Malcolm Johnson triggered a series of inquiries into organized crime on the docks with a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in 1948.

It recurred in the Oscar-winning 1954 movie On the Waterfront, depicting a union's struggle to resist brutal organized criminals, and again in the critically acclaimed 2002 television series The Wire, which devoted its second season to how union dock workers were coerced into drug smuggling and human trafficking through Baltimore's port by criminal elements while others, although disapproving, covered for their mates' transgressions.

The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.

Similar themes emerge from Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan's chronicling of the ease with which associates of gangs known for traffic in illegal drugs and weapons, smuggling contraband, money laundering, extortion and thuggery ranging from beatings to murders can find work on Metro's waterfront.

How has Metro Vancouver's port come to the point at which dozens of members of the Hell's Angels - identified as a major crime vector by the province's anti-gang combined forces special enforcement unit - their associates, other gangsters and people with serious criminal records can be so easily employed in such a strategically sensitive location?

As the series Crime on the Waterfront points out, more than 95 per cent of containers arriving on Metro's docks are not checked by the Canada Border Services Agency. Instead they are moved, managed and distributed by a port workforce that's known to have been infiltrated by gangsters, criminals and their associates.

Does this make any sense in an age when the threat of violent terrorism so seizes the federal government that it's prepared to enact sweeping and widely criticised modifications to basic civil rights most Canadians take for granted?

As Senator Colin Kenny once pointed out, the odds are probably against terrorists using one of the millions of containers entering Canadian ports each year to deliver a weapon of mass destruction but then, who thought the odds were good that terrorists would hijack four airliners and fly them into the New York's World Trade Centre and the Pentagon?

Public Safety Canada assures us on its website that in response to those attacks it strengthened aviation, marine and rail security in Canada, "including through more rigorous screening for port and airport employees."

Really? Meanwhile, at ports under direct federal jurisdiction such as Metro Vancouver's, which expedite millions of containers each year, the union seems to turn a blind eye to criminal activity among its members and their associates, authorities are lax in inspecting cargo, terminal operators are doing inadequate background checks and police appear too busy dealing with bloody gang wars raging on Metro streets to pay much attention to the docks.

If one important question arises, it's this: Who is in charge of the waterfront? In a time when either agents of violence or a weapon of mass destruction can be hidden in a container which most likely won't be checked and may be under the control of people with criminal associations, even smugglers, perhaps Ottawa might step up and do something genuinely constructive about public safety: developing a screening policy that actually screens, for example.