Port Policing: Has Canada dropped the ball?

Sep 15, 2007

Canada has experienced a long and tortuous history of policing our Ports.

At the end of the First World War, the port police in Montreal are believed to have had more than 100 officers but in 1920 they numbered three individuals with limited responsibility.

Despite objections and condemnation from ­various sources, the National Ports Canada Police was ­disbanded 10 years ago, by the Liberal government of Canada.

Port policing in Canada is actually older than the RCMP itself. The Quebec river police were in operation in 1856. Since then, dedicated port policing has been abolished many times only to be re-established when matters of security and the reputation of the ports were in jeopardy.

For example, at the end of the First World War, the port police in Montréal are believed to have had more than 100 officers but in 1920 they numbered three individuals with limited responsibility, and the policing of criminal matters rested with the city police.

Fast forward to 1969, when Canada’s National Port Police was re-established under the National Harbours Board. It began with 325 police officers and 80 security personnel to police the major ports in Canada. Headed by former members of the RCMP, detachments operated in the ports of Halifax, Montréal, Vancouver, Quebec City, St John New Brunswick, and St John’s Newfoundland. New port police were sworn in by superior court judges and were responsible for the enforcement of all the laws of Canada (as they related to port properties), port security and emergency response. They were later named as enforcement officers in the Immigration Act.

Policing Canadian Ports on the Cheap
By the time the ports police closed again, numbers had been reduced to a total of 124 personnel across the country. This came at a time when a major decentralization of port operations was proposed under new legislation that gave the ports almost complete local autonomy. Port administrators claimed that they could be more competitive if they did not have to meet the cost of maintaining their own police force and, as taxpayers, were entitled to local police services.

Around the world, port police units have invariably been funded out of port revenues as an alternative public taxation, and Canada traditionally followed suit.

The International Association of Airport and Seaport Police promotes the concept of dedicated port policing as the best method of protecting ports. At the IAASP’s Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts in 1996, delegates passed a resolution urging the Canadian government not to proceed with plans to abolish the Ports Canada Police.

Since the latest national port police disbandment, the Canadian Senate committee on National Defence and Security, led by Senator Kenny, has raised concerns that organized crime has infiltrated Canada’s ports. Port and law enforcement authorities have discounted the Senate reports and continue claiming that the crime situation in the airports and seaports is ‘overstated.’

Regrettably, extensive intelligence files compiled by the former Ports Canada Police, normally a matter of public record, cannot be located. Other police agencies, assuming port-policing responsibility, have had to rely on word of mouth information from former members of the Ports Police and the sparse individual files that were saved.

In its election platform, Canada’s Conservative government promised to restore the Ports Canada Police. This however, raised objections from the port authorities and, surprisingly, Canadian law enforcement. To date, Canada still does not have a national port police service.

Since the events of 9/11, by contrast, U.S. ports have increased their levels of port security and also strengthened law enforcement levels through their ports police service. Los Angeles seaport police, for example, has doubled its complement of port police to over 200 officers. That Port Authority, as part of its mission statement and its marketing strategy, wants to be recognized as having ‘the world’s premier port police service.’

Why Dedicated Ports Police?

Port policing is a highly specialized process. Ports around the world have, from time to time, employed outside policing services to provide the necessary law enforcement and intelligence gathering to protect their very lucrative industry that can well afford to pay the full cost of these services. In almost all of these cases, these alternate initiatives have failed.

Analysis of these failures points to the fundamental fact that outside agencies police the ports as part of their local responsibility. This means that it is not within their mandate to engage actively in international networks or meeting with other port police agencies to exchange information and experiences specific to port law enforcement, modes of transportation or cargo concerns.

The main fault with outside law enforcement services performing police or other enforcement duties in the ports is that they usually confine themselves to the simple matters of, investigation, arrest, and prosecution. The full spectrum of community policing undertaken by dedicated port police is not a major priority with outside agencies, because they do not have the resources to be present 24/7 – understandably their primary responsibility is to serve residents of their own tax-paying communities.

It was particularly galling to watch a recent Canadian television programme exposing the major risk of stolen automobiles that were being illegally shipped out of Canada. Allegedly the proceeds of these thefts were supporting international terrorism. It was suggested in this report that Canadian law enforcement is not fulfilling the functions of a former ports police and there are no joint law-enforcement special projects to deal with this problem.

In a recent U.S. case, the New York/ New Jersey Port Authority Police were involved in a significant joint law-enforcement project which broke a criminal ­organization that was in fact, exporting stolen vehicles to the Middle East.

In Canada, more than 12 years ago, the former Ports Canada Police initiated a project called, ‘CEASE’ (Controlled Enforcement of Automobiles Stolen for Export). Headed by the PCP, this joint law enforcement project also involved Canada Customs, the RCMP, and the Auto Theft Insurance Bureau. The insurance industry also provided logistical and secretarial support to work with these teams.

Operating from the Vancouver and Halifax offices of the Ports Canada Police, Project ‘CEASE’ proved very successful. In fact, a member of the Ports Canada Police working as part of the project team in Halifax received an award from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police for his initiative and outstanding work in this operation.

The project involved a reporting system developed with the shipping lines, shipping agents, freight forwarders and stevedoring companies to report all automobiles, automobiles parts and motorcycles that were being exported from Canada. At the Port of Vancouver, all ­documentation received was checked for required information and vehicle identification numbers (VIN) were checked for registered owners, stolen entries (CPIC), VIN validation, American exportation, and Insurance Crime Prevention Bureau (ICPB) entries. The team then attended the site(s) where vehicles were either being packed (loaded) or at the dock where the container and vehicles were to be shipped from. Team members physically checked the vehicles for valid vehicle identification numbers, secondary numbers, description of vehicle, and other contents searched for hidden contraband. A growing confidential list of target ­companies and individuals was developed and maintained.

One of the most glaring problems for the project team was in the area of documentation. It was very easy for the shipping companies and exporters, freight forwarders to either falsely describe the goods in the container or not indicate certain goods on the documentation.

If a false declaration was filed there was no process to check the container once it had left the port; neither was there any penalty to the exporter for filing a false declaration.

The Vancouver team addressed the problem of large numbers of motorcycles being stolen in the province of British Columbia. Indications showed that these vehicles, and parts, were being exported overseas by outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs) attempting to open up new chapters in the old Eastern European and Asian countries that desired Harley Davidson motorcycles and parts as part of their traditional culture. Particularly significant were the connections that members of OMGs and associates had with the waterfront industry.

News of this successful program spread quickly and soon a number of ­ingenious countermeasures by criminal ­elements were discovered. On occasions, details of vehicles were provided showing the identification of a particular vehicle, which was not reported stolen. Once entered on the manifest and checked by police, the vehicles were then stolen and placed into containers on the dock shortly before loading onto the ship. This resulted in vehicles being exported undetected. The scam required additional work by the police by making it necessary to routinely re-check the declarations. Serious problems arose in attempting to recover the stolen vehicle once it had landed in the foreign port.

Another highly successful scam was perpetrated by Asian organized crime based in Canada. They undertook a vehicle fleet-leasing agreement with a major company. The leased vehicles were then loaded into containers and exported to Asia. Upon reaching their destination the vehicles were reported stolen. Until detected by the team, organized crime was able to steal vehicles to order and subvert the reporting process.

Individual thefts were also detected. In one significant case, a family of Asians working temporarily in Canada reported three high-end vehicles stolen in Toronto over a short space of time. The Insurance company paid out the claims. The three alleged stolen vehicles had actually been packed by the family into a container with other items listed as ‘personal and household affects’ for the family’s return home. They were to be shipped through the Port of Vancouver shortly after the family had left the country.

The legitimate exportation of vehicles is not without its problems either. For example, new high-end vehicles are legitimately purchased at discounted rates and exported by entrepreneurs seeking to make a profit by lawful sales in other countries. Checking the details with the Canadian maker’s distributor generated complaints that these exported vehicles were supporting the ‘grey market’ that was competing by undercutting the market price of the authorized importer.

Internationally, auto theft and the export of stolen vehicles is a highly lucrative criminal business. It is reported that, in many cases, stolen vehicles are being driven in foreign countries with original registration plates and other identification brazenly displayed.

Once stolen vehicles are out of the country, there is virtually no chance of recovery and very little chance of criminal prosecution.

Be Realistic: Provide the Necessary Security
The IAASP has been aware of comments indicating that law enforcement should not be directly involved in criminal investigations that directly benefit the private sector and its shareholders. The IAASP does not agree with this concept because this view could be widely used as ­rationale for the non-involvement of law enforcement in any matters involving a profit-making industry or even household business or property.

Notwithstanding, the fact remains that unless Canadian law enforcement can properly address the issue of stolen automobiles for export through our seaports, the Canadian driving public will continue to pay increased insurance premiums and foot the bill to cover shortfalls caused by successful criminal operations. This is but one known example!

One wonders how many other successful crime prevention projects initiated by the former Ports Canada Police have been discontinued by the current police services that are now responsible for policing Canada’s seaports.

Canada has indeed dropped the ball in port policing!
Mike Toddington is the former Chief Officer, Ports Canada Police, Vancouver and Executive Director of the IAASP.
© FrontLine Security 2007