“License and registration, please.”
Yet another “breaking news” item about this month’s G8 and G20 summits in Toronto/Cottage Country has been picked over and left to die at the side of the Information Highway by Canada’s fleet but fickle national news media.
On Tuesday, the Toronto Star “broke” the story (and now they have to pay for it) that the Utah-based security company Contemporary Security International hired by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to provide security at the sites in Toronto and Huntsville, Ontario was not actually licensed by the appropriate provincial body to legally carry out such official duties in the Province of Ontario.
The provincial Private Security and Investigative Services Act stipulates that “no person shall sell the services of private investigators or security guards or hold themself (sic) out as available to sell such services” unless licensed to do so under the statute.
Had anyone in the RCMP bothered to check this small trifling detail they would have discovered that the Ontario provincial ministry of “community safety” (formerly the Solicitor General’s department) has been in charge of doling out private security guard licenses around these parts since time immemorial, or at least, long enough to allow even the Mounties to catch wind of it.
A media porte-parole (the French word is less grubby sounding than media relations officer) within the office of provincial cabmin Rick Bartolucci–who’s in charge of that bailiwick–was quick to plug that hole yesterday when she told the Star reporter Jesse McLean that: “For the aim of public safety, we’re moving forward with the process to have them licensed quickly but with all the due diligence necessary.”
More surprising than Bartolucci’s alacritous sound-bite was its unsubtle posterior-covering disclosure not merely that the provincial department only “became aware of the CSC contract no more than two weeks ago,”–that is, in the last week of May 2010, less than a month before the G8/G20 summits starting date–but also after the RCMP had already hired the security contractor for the gig.
In fact, an online job posting by the company–which still appears on its Canadian subsidiary’s website–was by that time already encouraging prospective summit securiteers to apply for the summit security jobs.
The positions were described in the company’s ad as “supervised by the RCMP and Integrated Security Unit (ISU)” and “responsible for providing airport-type pedestrian security screening, including inspection of persons and items at the G8 and G20 sites.”
Candidates were told to apply by email or appear in person at a temporary recruiting office set up on the campus of Humber College in Toronto. The ad also stipulated that “all positions will be filled” between May 31st and June 7, 2010.
Ironically, the job posting’s “minimum qualifications” for the $20 to $24 per hour positions, included requirements that candidates “must be eligible to work in Canada” and also “possess or be able to obtain an Ontario Security Guard license license before June 15, 2010″ which applicants were also instructed to bring with them to the interview.
Naturally, when the Star exercised its Supreme Court of Canada-ordained “responsible journalism” due diligence and contacted Contemporary Security‘s parent company in Salt Lake City, Utah, it got the expected stream of official assurances that no local laws had been harmed in the making of this security contract.
Security by Proxy
One can surmise that as Contemporary International client services boss Todd Severson was telling the Star reporter on his cellphone that “CSC is not currently performing any security services in Ontario…but will ensure all regulatory requirements are met before security screening begins,” he was busy with his spare hand messaging head office on his iPad to fast-track that pesky license thing with the local authorities up there in On-tar-eye-oh.
Severson, whose Facebook page includes logos and “pages” for every Olympic bid from now until 2019, is touted on the security company’s website as having “an encyclopedic knowledge of planning Olympic events and on-the-ground experience in delivery” and as project director for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, described as “a joint venture including Contemporary Security Canada, Aeroguard, and UPSG.
Also according to the company website, “in early 2009 this select group was chosen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Government of Canada to supply approximately 5000 Games Time security screening staff (magnetometer operators, wanders, screeners) for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”
The same website advises that “when he is not working directly on Olympic Projects, Severson manages CI’s Asia-Pacific office out of Sydney, Australia” which, at last check was about 10,000 miles from the G8/G20 Ontario sites.
So it was the Integrated Security Unit (ISU) of the RCMP which actually chose the American firm to partner on the G8/G20 project albeit with the stipulation that Contemporary Security agree to let two Canuckistani outfits, Aeroguard Security Ltd. and Professional Security Group have a piece of the action.
Aeroguard Security Ltd. is part of the Aeroguard Group which goes by the catchy and kitschy motto: “We never let our guard down.”
Its current board chair John Greene was a senior accountant at Ernst Young in Winnipeg and former business partner of former Manitoba conservative premier Duff Roblin (later Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative senate leader)–with whom he co-owned Metropol Security Ltd. in Winnipeg before becoming chief exec at Aeroguard. His daughter Jane Greene is Aeroguard Group‘s CEO.
And it seems that Greene the elder’s former joint venture with Duff Roblin at Metropol may have already exposed him to the pitfalls of attracting media attention in the security business.
Back in January 1988, according to the supemarket tabloid Weekly World News (seriously, check the link, it’s in the October 10, 1989 edition), a tiny two-month old First Nations infant, Anna Sakakeep, from Big Trout Lake, Ontario was inadvertently or perhaps even negligently put through an airport security baggage x-ray machine at Winnipeg airport by security screeners employed by Metropol Security. The parents of the infant settled out of court with the company for $15,000 and a trust fund was also set up for the infant who was only months old at the time.
Private-public security partnership not always a smooth ride
Not to imply that Aeroguard Security hasn’t attracted controversy itself or found “partnering” with a federal regulation enforcer a real challenge to its corporate interpersonal skills.
In November 2001, the Vancouver Province ran a story which reported how airline security guards at Vancouver international airport had been refusing to allow passengers wearing Remembrance Day red poppy pins to board aircraft because the pins were “a sharp object.”
Although Transport Canada later overruled the Aeroguard guards’ actions and confirmed that “small straight pins” were not on the no-fly list, Aeroguard still refused to stop confiscating the pinned poppies until it received formal notification from its federal government partner.
But the CSC conglomerate itself encountered controversy during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
At the Vancouver games this February, it may be recalled by those who were neither intoxicated on-site nor bored to tears and depressed by the steady rain, there were not one, but two, count ‘em two security breaches within the first 72 hours of the Games opening ceremonies.
That and the wholesale and pretty much unexplained forced departure of several police officers who had been recruited to Vancouver for “Olympic duty” for inappropriate conduct that was never made public.
In the first of the incidents, a 48-year-old mentally ill man with “a fake pass” gained access to B.C. Place, tand got within “a few feet” of U.S. vice-president Joe Biden. In a second breach a day later, a “suspicious package” (no comment) managed to get through a spectator screening area and was brought into the venue for the medal presentation to Canadian athlete Alex Bilodeau. In fact, it was allowed into the site even after the security screeners scanned it but couldn’t decide what it was so let its ‘owner’ walk away with it.
The RCMP responded publicly to these incidents with appropriate contrition: “The ISU recognizes that it is not acceptable for an unidentified suspicious object to go through screening and not be stopped.” But the RCMP’s Sgt. Michael Harvey was also careful to name the private security mentees involved in the second incident:
“We are actively working with Contemporary Security Canada to ensure that security processes and staff are being changed and updated in response to any issues that may arise.” In a tour de force of understatement and discretion, the RCMP’s ISU quietly announced it would be changing gear “from essentially supervising private security staff to more actively mentoring them.”
A subsequent RCMP comment to Olympics media was more forthright still:
“This is an incident that took place. We admit it. Is it something we want to happen reoccur? Absolutely not. It’s unacceptable. We’re taking measures now to rectify the area that was lacking. It was an issue of timing and perhaps now our police officers who are supervising our partners at Contemporary Security will take more of a mentoring role.
But Contemporary Security‘s man on the ground (in, er, Sydney) Todd Severson ”declined comment” about the incident and simply referred media inquiries back to Sgt. Harvey. In the result the private consortium was never fully or publicly held to account (or exonnerated, for that matter) for any security breaches it may have been responsible for at the Games. Although VANOC officials copped to the Joe Biden goof up, the suspicious package incident was left unquestioned, at least in public.
Leaving things to the last minute
The VANOC group had years in which to reshape heaven and earth in B.C. to make ready for the Games in 2010. But in hindsight, Olympics security preparations seemed to be a laid-back, last minute affair.
When it came to finding warm bodies in security guard uniforms in time for the opening ceremonies, the private contractors were not in a position to be picky. Most of the recruits were hired in a cross-country blitz in the fall of 2009.
Nevertheless the Contemporary Security folks down in Utah claimed in a pre-Olympics media release that these “employees went through an extensive RCMP-approved training program.”
For the G8/G20 summits, the time remaining to provide adequate training for the newly recruited security guards also appears fleeting–slightly more than two weeks from now.
And as it had to do for the G8/G20 summits, way back then Contemporary Security also found itself requiring special ‘consideration” in order to comply with provincial licensing requirements. In each of these multimillion dollar contracts with the government of Canada, the U.S. company was able to wait until the eleventh-hour to “fast-track” authorization and licensing of its new recruits.
Prior to the Vancouver Olympics, when Contemporary Security‘s consortium was awarded the $94.2 million security contract by VANOC in October 2009, it also found itself in the position of having no “local” credentials that would legally permit its employees to act as security guards in the Province of British Columbia.
And it was a well-known requirement (to everyone except the Mounties, it seems) that prospective security guards had to successfully complete a training and licensing process through the provincial solicitor-general’s department.
The same holds true for the G8/G20 summits on June 25th, 2010 in Ontario.
But on the eve of the Vancouver games in September 2009, B.C.’s provincial government accommodated the U.S. contractor by creating a temporary 90-day license “to meet the demand for Olympic security screeners.”
At that time Contemporary Security’s international president Stephen Mirabile told the Canadian media that “our goal is to hire as many people locally as possible,” adding that although the firm was “looking to recruit individuals who have existing experience in the security industry…we will also be hiring and training others who do not.”
B.C.’s provincial registrar of security guards went further in describing the new “temporary” 90-day licenses as essentially a watered-down standard compared with the normal prerequisites for licensing
As Sam MacLeod stated candidly: “It is a new licence category that allows for workers to work under supervision without any formal training. The only process they have to go through is a fingerprint clearance process”.
Not Much Experience Necessary
It is also apparent that some of employees of Contemporary Security are recent recruits themselves, with little or no background in policing or private security. For example, Contemporary Security‘s recruitment manager for the Olympics hiring was formerly a personnel officer with a U.S. department store and before that volunteer coordinator at a film festival.
But when all is said and done after the G8/G20 summit participants and protesters have come and gone, the manner in which the federal Tory government has handled the organization and especially the operating budget for the event is going to leave a foul odour and taste in the mouths of all concerned.
The fact that it appears to replicate a series of mistakes and shortcomings that were experienced during the Vancouver Olympics involving the very same American security firm and its Canadian “partners” should raise serious questions, or should we say, even more serious questions about how and why the nearly $1 billion security tab for the G8/G20 event was ever approved and by whom.
The answer to that will likely not be divulged willingly by the thus far unidentified federal spendthrifts on the grounds of, you guessed it, national security.