The federal government’s failure to fund a police force dedicated to Canada’s ports is a national security threat that must be addressed immediately, says Delta, British Columbia, Mayor George Harvie.
Delta is home to the Roberts Bank Terminal and expansion plans over the next few years will see millions more containers moving through the Port of Vancouver annually.
Harvie says Canada’s ports are the responsibility of the federal government, but the “complete absence” of uniformed police at the facilities makes them obvious targets for criminal elements, from Mexican drug cartels to motorcycle gangs, to establish themselves.
“We are witnessing a relentless flow of illegal drugs, weapons and contraband into Canada through our ports and that threatens our national security,” Harvie said in an interview Thursday.
“They need to recognize this. We have a fentanyl crisis in our community here in Delta, in Metro Vancouver, across the province and across the country,” he said of the federal government’s inaction.
The report highlights the challenges
The City of Delta on Thursday released a report it had commissioned on policing Metro Vancouver’s port terminal facilities that says there is “literally no downside” for organized criminals to set up shop.
“Ports recently scored very highly in British Columbia’s provincial threat assessment regarding the potential for infiltration and corruption,” the report says.
The Port of Vancouver is made up of ports in several Lower Mainland locations, including Delta, Surrey and Vancouver, where approximately three million containers pass through annually, and the Roberts Bank expansion will see more than two million more once completed.
The report highlights the difficulties of port policing since Ports Canada police were disbanded in 1997, and more than a quarter-century later, Harvie said the consequences of that decision have become clear.
Harvie said the Canada Border Services Agency monitors less than one per cent of the container traffic passing through the region’s ports.
He said the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority has not stepped in to beef up security at the terminals because policing is not its responsibility.
“They say they have security cameras. Well, they sure don’t do much to examine the containers, and there is also a question regarding the lack of proper security checks for people working at the port,” Harvie said.
British Columbia’s ports have been corrupted by infiltration by organized crime groups, including the Hells Angels, as well as Russian, Asian and South Asian criminal organizations and Mexican drug cartels, the report says.
Consult with authorities.
Harvie said the lack of police resources dedicated to port facilities means criminal activities like drug trafficking will only get worse, highlighting the need to “harden” Canada’s ports to protect communities and national security.
City officials recently met with officials from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Seattle Port Police, and Harvie said it was “shocking to them” that Vancouver ports did not have a dedicated police force.
Harvie said he also met with federal ministers in Ottawa who were equally shocked by the lack of police at port facilities.
Port authority officials, the report notes, have historically claimed to have “no knowledge of organized crime activities” at port facilities.
“I think it’s just disgusting,” Harvie said. “I simply cannot believe that they deny the active presence of organized crime within their operations.”
“They don’t even want our Delta police on their property. So again, I look forward to discussing this directly with the Port Metro Vancouver board members,” Harvie added.
Shared jurisdiction between authorities
Anita Gill, director of health, safety and port security for Vancouver’s Fraser Port Authority, said in an email that “the safety and security of our coasts is a multi-jurisdictional responsibility.”
“We work closely with local police forces and the RCMP, terminal operators and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to ensure security at the Port of Vancouver,” Gill said.
“We recognize that security and surveillance at British Columbia’s marine terminals is a complicated issue and we are always open to collaborating on ways to improve the current approach.”
Kiloh said there are security “weaknesses” in port facilities that criminals can exploit, allowing them to “manipulate” the entry and exit of goods.
Now retired, Kiloh said the pressures on the police are constant and that, when mixed with politics, problems can attract attention in the short term when they come to light and then “political masters throw money at it.”
“Then it disappears over time, or the rhetoric dies down and they fade away,” he said.
Kiloh said port security and technology have not kept pace with port volumes and expansion over the past 20 years, while investigation obstacles have always challenged law enforcement efforts.
“Getting in the way of commerce is a problem for the police,” he said. “It costs someone money.”