Cablegate: Canadian Port Security Measures Announced in Halifax

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A



2. (SBU) SUMMARY AND COMMENT: Atlantic Canada and Halifax port
officials are satisfied that the Canadian government's port
security initiative, announced at a Halifax news conference by
four federal cabinet ministers on January 22, is a step in the
right direction. Local officials welcomed the government's
C$172 million package but have questions about how much of that
money will end up at Halifax port. Moreover, they insist that
local efforts to bolster security at this port, such as
tightening background checks on port employees and installing
high-tech screening systems for incoming marine containers, are
already accomplishing many of the objectives laid out in the
federal government's five-year plan. They are skeptical that
the proposed package will take port security much farther than
where the ports are going themselves at their own initiative,
and they warn that some of the government's proposed measures
fail to focus on the main threat: the possibility of a nuclear
or chem-bio device hidden inside a shipping container entering
Halifax from overseas but destined for the United States. (END

3. (SBU) At a press conference on the Halifax waterfront, four
federal cabinet ministers---Transport Minister David Collenette,
Solicitor General Wayne Easter, Fisheries Minister Robert
Thibault, and Customs/Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan---announced
the government's plan to spend C$172 over five years on new
computers, scanning equipment, training, and police and Customs
services to enhance security at the country's three major ports
of Halifax, Vancouver, and Montreal. The government's plan,
according to Collenette, will result in increased surveillance
of marine traffic, more thorough screening passengers and crew,
installation of new detection equipment in ports to screen
shipping containers, improvement in the capacity of the RCMP to
investigate and respond to potential security breaches,
establishment of restricted port areas, and new requirements
that port workers undergo thorough background checks.

4. (SBU) Officials of Halifax port and Canada Customs in
Atlantic Canada told CG that they welcome the government's
announcement but are waiting to see how Ottawa will divide up
the C$172 million. They commented that the most acute need is
for money to cover the purchase and maintenance of the expensive
gamma-ray scanners known as VACIS (Vehicle and Cargo Inspection
System) and other new high-tech equipment. Halifax Port Authority
officials noted wryly that the port has already been purchasing
and installing VACIS scanners, at considerable cost, over the
past six months with no help from Ottawa (SEE REFTEL). Our
local contacts were somewhat dismayed that the visiting federal
ministers seemed unaware that, since the September 11 terrorist
attacks, Halifax port and Canada Customs here have been
implementing almost all of the measures laid out in the
government's five-year plan. For example, Halifax has already
placed tighter controls on passengers and crew of visiting
ships, established restricted areas within the port, tightened
background checks for port employees, and made considerable
progress in reinforcing the identification and screening of
potentially suspect marine containers coming in to North America
through Halifax port. These local initiatives, Halifax
officials feel, have received neither recognition nor support
from Ottawa.

5. (SBU) The one substantial change contained in the federal
announcement, according to our contacts, is the decision to
augment the role of the RCMP in enforcing port security. Until
now, the RCMP here in Halifax has had no personnel permanently
assigned at the port. Canada Customs, with support from the
two U.S. Customs inspectors who have been seconded here since
last year, conducts all investigations and searches. RCMP
Inspector Bill Kazmel, the federal policing chief for Nova
Scotia, told CG that the government's plan should enable his
office to assign at least four RCMP members to full-time duty at
the Halifax port. Our local contacts also believe that the key
to success will be a determination on the part of the federal
government to ensure an equitable division of resources and
coordination among the six agencies that will have to work
together at the port: RCMP, Transport Canada, Canada Customs,
Citizenship and Immigration Canada, CSIS, and the Department of
Fisheries and Oceans.
6. (SBU) A few local officials told CG they doubted that the
amount of money announced by the federal ministers will make a
difference, noting that C$172 million over five years amounts to
only C$34 million per year, and that sum has to be spread among
six agencies at three different ports.

7. (SBU) Finally, our contacts warned that some of the
government's measures---those that focus on perimeter security
at the port facility itself and background checks for
longshoremen---were missing the point: the main security threat
at Halifax port does not emanate from local individuals coming
onto port property, but rather from shipping containers coming
in from overseas. In light of the post-September 11 terrorism
dangers, port security efforts should not focus on protecting
foreign container ships from attack by local elements in
Halifax, which is unlikely, but instead should focus on
protecting North America from a potential hazard---such as a
nuclear or biological device---that might conceivably be hidden
inside a container coming from overseas. Halifax handles more
than half a million incoming shipping containers every year,
approximately 100,000 of which are in transit for destinations
in the United States.

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