Ports are a problem

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03/20/2008
In this story out of Canada, I'm fairly certain you can substitute the words "United States" for "Canada" and not change the accuracy in any way. Unfortunately, it takes an incident to draw public attention to North America's various security holes. In this case, four Algerian guys stowed away on a bus on a container ship, then "sprinted away from the commissionaire staffing the entrance of the Cerescorp container terminal in Fairview." Those dudes must have been fast, because it took five hours to catch them. What the incident has done is get people talking, which is good: "Right now, they throw a lot of publicity at it and they say the system’s working well and they got these guys," said Bruce Brine, who headed the Halifax ports police more than a decade ago. "And I can appreciate that. They’re police executives and they have to maintain a positive public image. But basically, we’re wide open and this incident the other day just shows it. "They were just illegals trying to get in. If they were actually organized, they would have been more covert. ""What it amounts to is anybody who wants to get into the country illegally can." Brine is advocating for a dedicated ports police force. That may be a solution to the problem - there may be a number of solutions to the problem. The important thing is that people take the problem seriously, then apply whichever solutions make the most sense. Here's the scary stuff: "With that, I think they’ve accepted a tremendous liability for the taxpayers of Halifax," Mr. Brine said. "Let’s say an American cruise ship comes in and something happens, somebody gets at it because there’s no waterside security and the thing’s blown up and we have hundreds of people killed. Who is going to get sued?" It would probably take a major terrorist attack in a Canadian port to revive the ports police, said Mike Toddington, executive director of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police. "Had the port police been around at the time of 9-11, there would have been absolutely no consideration of getting rid of the port police," said Mr. Toddington, who used to head the Vancouver ports police. Brine seems like a well-meaning guy, but I'm a little more worried about the "hundreds of people killed" than I am about who's liable for for the lawsuit. Doesn't that seem incredibly cynical? Security isn't about saving money, it's about saving people. Until governments (and the public that elects them) start valuing life a little more highly, security is always going to be an after-thought, something governments deal with because they don't want to look bad.