V2010: Olympic Security

15 July 2008

According to early government mantra, the 2010 Games are to be “a sporting event not a security event.” However, as reality sets in, and with the Games only a year and half away, there is clearly a strong need for the public and private sectors to come together achieve marine security in Vancouver, Canada’s busiest port. The 2010 Games provides an opportunity to show Canada’s leadership in marine security. The Canadian Forces need to be front and centre working with Police and other Agencies to make this a world class event.

Submissions to past issues of the sister ­publication, FrontLine Security contend that the Olympic Games are not a sporting event but rather a political event. In particular, Tom Quiggin, senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of ­International Studies in Singapore, suggests an international intelligence-driven security approach.

With an estimated three billion worldwide viewers watching the games on ­television, the 75 days of the Olympic and Paralympic Games present a venue that will be of interest to nonsportmen who wish to bring attention to their political cause. Vancouver will be a tempting target.

With a variety of waterfront venues in a large port and river waterway system, transportation chokepoints, mountainous terrain, sporting facilities spread over many square kilometres, a single rail link to the alpine venue, an international airport bordered on tidewater, a multi-modal urban transit system, potentially poor weather and unstable geological conditions during the event, it is an understatement to say that the Games present some major security challenges.

In addition, the Port of Vancouver serves as the main transit point for much of western Canada with $120B in foreign trade being carried by commercial shipping in Canada overall. Vancouver is a working year-round port. Many of the 2010 venues border on tidewater in and around the port in a busy urban environment. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the Canadian marine security community, which includes both the public and private sectors. External pressures usually bring out the best in Canadians. The Games can provide a quantum leap opportunity for marine security thinking and policy development.

As the Scouts would say, we need to be prepared. It is more than a cliché; we need to have developed asymmetrical thinking and look at threat response in new ways. We must be ready. That was the message in George Tenet’s (Director of Central Intelligence) recent book At the Center of the Storm. Lets not sugar-coat the fact that Canada is not everyone’s friend. We are simply not. Canada has been subject to past terrorists attacks. Here are a few terrorism incidents with a Vancouver connection:

  • the Squamish 5 bombings;
  • the Air India bombing;
  • beating of now Member of Parliament for Vancouver South, Ujjal Dosanjh; and
  • Ahmed Ressam’s attempt to smuggle from Victoria, bomb making materials into the United States in 1999.

Considering our key role in Afghanistan, it is naïve to think we cannot be a target. Our foreign policy has made us a player in the war on terror – and we should be. Canada for many years punched above its weight on the international stage. We must not live in fear but neither can we shut down commercial activities of Canada’s third largest urban area and one of the nation’s largest and most important mutli-modal commercial transportation hubs in order to protect and secure the Games. Besides, such a requirement would require specific federal legislation. That would be a big mistake and would send the wrong message to the world. The development of a comprehensive security plan for the Games will be key to how the world views Canada.

Showcasing our security response will provide a deterrence factor for terrorists groups. “Steer clear of Canada,” needs to be the signal chatter. This will require a lot more input from the private sector and the Canadian Forces, in my view. More ­discussion and development of a vigorous, robust, resilience response within the marine community is necessary to become more intelligence driven with an integrated prevention – not solely law enforcement – response to the counterterrorism. We also need to look at creating a structure to freely exchange information between the security community and the commercial sector especially with respect to the Games and marine security. It is everyone’s business.

In the marine security field, the Canadian Forces, and Canada Command in particular, must play a key and expanded role to ensure a balanced, measured approach. We are lucky to have two seasoned senior naval officers, Admirals McFadden and Pile, in key leadership roles in the run up to the Games. The Canadian Navy is well versed in working with commercial interests in a multilateral, multi jurisdictional, multi-agency environment. The Games are right in our backyard and the date is fast approaching. The Marine Security Operations Centres and fusion of data will be a key component in a CanadaCOM-led ­initiative. We have to get it right, and these officers will ensure that happens.

The political leadership must ensure that the Canadian Forces, working with the RCMP and other Federal agencies, provincial/municipal governments and industry, are given all the tools and funding needed to achieve a gold-medal world-class ­performance for security at the 2010 Games. The public expects no less, and the whole world will be watching. We will be a better country and safer secure nation for it. Game on!
Joe Spears is a marine lawyer and has acted as an ad hoc Federal Crown Counsel and lectures frequently on marine inter­departmental jurisdictional cooperation. He was involved with the Clinton-Yelstein Summit in Vancouver Harbour in 1993. He studied at the London School of Economics during the rash of IRA bombings in 1985-86.
© Frontline Defence 2008