Interpol's Canadian Footprint

Mar 15, 2007

Set between the Rhone River and the “Parc Tete d’Or” in Lyon, France – about an hour’s drive southwest of the Swiss border – is a rather unique looking building. As some of its security features become visible to the casual passer-by, including marked police vehicles and uniformed officers at the entrance, some might wonder what purpose it serves.

The General Secretariat in Lyon, France, serves as Interpol headquarters.

Although highly secured, its location is no secret. Clearly marked on the city map and on the front of the building, even the casual observer can quickly determine that this facility belongs to Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organization. Interpol’s mission, however, may not be clear to many within the local community and around the world.

As the world’s largest international police organization, with 186 member countries, the facility is home base for Interpol’s General Secretariat, serving as the headquarters for global efforts in facilitating international cooperation and communication among police agencies. With three core functions – providing secure global police communications, data services and databases for police, and operational police support services – Interpol assists and coordinates investigations among member countries.

As technology and communications have advanced in recent years, so has Interpol’s ability to assist in the fight against international crime. Unfortunately, so too has the ability of criminals to interact and cross borders – especially with electronic and Internet-based crime. To counter this, law enforcement around the world must work closely together, sharing resources and information when appropriate.

“Globalization and advanced technology have made fighting international crime as complex and challenging as ever,” says Ronald Noble, Interpol’s secretary general. “With police expertise and extensive resources, however, Interpol is well positioned to assist law enforcement agencies around the world in pursuing cross-border investigations.”

Interpol functions with five working regions: the Americas; Europe; Asia; Africa; and the Middle East and North Africa. Supported by sub-regional bureaus in Argentina, El Salvador, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, as well as liaison offices in Thailand and at the United Nations in New York, Interpol provides operational police support focusing on five priority crime areas: drugs and organized crime; public safety and terrorism; fugitives; trafficking in human beings; and financial and high-tech crime.

Canada joined the organization in 1949 and, since then, two Canadians, both former RCMP commissioners, have been elected to serve as president of Interpol – William Higgitt (1972-76) and Norman Inkster (1992-94). Former RCMP Com­missioner Giuliano Zaccardelli was also a strong supporter of Interpol and, during his tenure, Canada took a leadership role in many international policing initiatives.

The command and coordinator centre, at the General Secretariat, operates around the clock to prioritize incoming messages and to reply immediately to urgent requests.

In addition to its annual dues of approximately $1.9 million, Canada cooperates with Interpol and other member countries by providing training, technical expertise and support around the world. These efforts benefit other regions, but also pay dividends back home, allowing Canadian law enforcement agencies to communicate globally and access international databases with relevant, useful information on criminal activity.

Canada: First to Connect
In 2002, Interpol introduced its secure global police communications system, known as I-24/7. The system is administered through each member country’s National Central Bureau (NCB), normally located in its capital city to ensure national coordination and support. Connecting law enforcement officials in member countries, it facilitates the rapid and secure sharing of crucial information.

Using I-24/7, each country’s NCB can search and cross-check data in a matter of seconds, with direct access to information databases on suspected terrorists, wanted persons, fingerprints, lost or stolen travel documents, stolen motor vehicles and stolen works of art. Member countries maintain and manage their national criminal data, but can make it accessible to the international law enforcement community.

Canada helped design the I-24/7 system and was the first country to connect, becoming operational in January 2003. Initially installed at NCBs, Interpol is encouraging member countries to extend their I-24/7 connections to national law enforcement entities such as border police, customs and immigration. NCBs control the level of access that other authorized national users have to Interpol services and can also request to be informed of enquiries made to their national databases by other countries.

Until recently, the RCMP was the only Canadian police agency with access to the I-24/7 system. Since July 2006, the Sureté du Quebec and the York Regional Police have connected, making them the first provincial and municipal agencies in Canada with access.

Interpol Ottawa
Canada’s NCB is located at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa. With more than 40 police members and civilians, including RCMP officers and those seconded from the OPP, Sureté du Quebec, Montreal Police Service, Toronto Police Service and the Halifax Regional Police Service, it serves as a liaison office between Canadian law enforcement agencies, other NCBs, and Interpol’s General Secretariat in France.

For Canadian law enforcement, this assistance is most beneficial when dealing with other regions of the world, ­especially outside of North America. For joint Canada-U.S. cases, Canadian police agencies normally deal directly with their American counterparts, but Interpol Ottawa can be of assistance in less familiar territory, especially when a criminal case involves three or more member countries.

Interpol Ottawa works with the General Secretariat and its command and coordination centre (CCC). Established in 2003, the CCC links NCBs in all 186 member countries and Interpol’s sub-regional bureaus, facilitating operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Serving as the first point of contact for member countries faced with crisis situations, the CCC operates around the clock to prioritize each message received and to respond immediately to urgent requests.

The CCC also coordinates exchanges of intelligence and information for operations involving several countries, assuming a crisis-support role during ­serious incidents. In doing so, Interpol provides member countries with a full range of police-support services, including instant searches of its databases, investigative support, the coordination of ­Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) efforts, and the deployment of Incident Response Teams (IRT) to sites of major disasters or terrorist attacks.

Canada’s Global Footprint
“Canada has had a tremendous global impact and reach through Interpol as a result of its direct support to bioterrorism training and prevention,” says David Gork, Interpol’s director of specialized crime and an assistant commissioner with the RCMP. Some areas that Canada has made significant impact include:

Incidence Response. Following the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia in December 2004, Interpol sent an IRT to provide assistance and Canada was among the first countries to deploy a DVI team to the region.

Integrated-Network Database. Interpol also supports major events, recently providing assistance with security preparations for the Cricket World Cup (CWC), hosted by nine Caribbean countries. Canada, with a team entered in the competition, also provided funding to assist with the implementation of Interpol’s mobile and fixed ­integrated-network databases, known as MIND/FIND, for the event. With Canada’s assistance, this new technology was implemented in the Caribbean, extending access to Interpol’s stolen and lost travel documents database to border-entry officers. Using this system during the first two months of 2007, there were approximately 50 hits in the nine CWC host Caribbean countries compared to less than 90 during the previous four years, clearly illustrating how the implementation of MIND/FIND technology is helping to restrict the movement of criminals and terrorists who often use altered stolen or lost passports.

Child Exploitation Prevention. Sexual exploitation of children is one area that crosses jurisdictions and borders without travel documents, especially since the development and increased use of the internet and electronic images. Created in 2001, Interpol’s s child abuse image database contains thousands of images of child sexual abuse submitted by member countries, and facilitates the sharing of information to assist enforcement agencies with the identification of new victims. The RCMP and provincial police services, through the RCMP-­managed National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, have been working in close co-operation with Interpol in this area, and are among the most active ­contributors to the database.

Bioterrorism Prevention. Interpol’s bioterrorism prevention program has also received significant support from Canadian law enforcement. The RCMP has provided staff and ­material resources for Interpol’s train-the-trainer initiative for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) material, and ­lecturers for regional bioterrorism conferences. These training programs are aimed at educating law enforcement on the threat, prevention and investigation of bioterrorism-related offences.

Interpol Notices
Interpol notices are used to share crime-related information with police in member countries around the world. A red notice seeks the arrest or provisional arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition; a blue notice seeks information about someone, such as their identity, whereabouts, or ties to a crime; a green notice warns countries about career criminals who travel internationally; a yellow notice helps locate missing or lost persons; a black notice seeks help identifying dead bodies or deceased persons who may have used false identities; an orange notice warns of potential threats from disguised weapons, parcel bombs and other dangerous materials; and the Interpol-United Nations Special Notice is issued for groups and individuals who are the targets of UN sanctions against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

A red notice was recently issued at the request of Canadian police, through the NCB in Ottawa, for the arrest of a man accused of abducting his two daughters from their Calgary home. Should the man, believed to have left for Australia, be identified by police in one of Interpol’s other member countries, the red notice requests his provisional arrest so that Canadian authorities can request his extradition. A yellow notice was also issued for the two girls.

Like other Interpol databases, the notice system improves coordination, allowing one central point of contact at NCBs for law enforcement agencies, and one central database of information for member countries around the world.

Canada is a well-established contributor to international policing and its efforts do not go unnoticed. During his visit to Ottawa in March 2005 – the first official visit by a Secretary General of Interpol since 1990 – Noble praised Canada’s support for international policing. “Canada practices what it preaches,” he said. “Whatever you call the highest category of support and participation, Canada is in that category.”  

Mark Giles is the chief of communications and publications at Interpol, based at the General Secretariat in Lyon, France.
More information on Interpol notices and other services is available at:
© FrontLine Security 2007