Delta concerned policing at ports has ‘fallen through the cracks’

The City of Delta wants policing issues addressed before any consideration is given to expanding the ports at Roberts Bank.

Civic politicians discussed a staff report last week on the city’s submission to a federal environmental review panel outlining Delta’s concerns about the Port of Vancouver’s Terminal 2 proposal, including topics such as organized crime and drug smuggling. It notes Delta is one of the key gateways for the flow of illegal goods into Western Canada.

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“Before any port expansion can be considered, there must be a solid commitment to increase resources and collaboration between the Canadian Border Services Agency and the terminal operators so that container inspection rates are not only maintained, but increased, as container throughput grows,” the report states.

The Ports Canada Police was disbanded in 1997, leaving municipal police to patrol docks and ports, provincial government money laundering investigator Peter German noted in his recent report. German warned the lack of a dedicated port police could be allowing large numbers of stolen vehicles to slip out of Canada.

A 2011 Public Safety Canada report concluded that Canada’s three largest ports – Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax – are the most vulnerable to inbound and outbound smuggling, citing container traffic volume as a key reason for the ports’ appeal to smugglers.

A 2016 report by Transport Canada noted organized crime groups will continue to exploit vulnerabilities at B.C. ports.

A 2017 Transport Canada internal report also warned corruption is widespread at the Port of Vancouver where unionized longshoremen include members of organized crime groups.

Four years ago, Vancouver Fraser Port Authority discontinued its financial contribution to the RCMP-led Waterfront Joint Forces Operation, a policing organization intended to fight crime on the waterfront.

“For many years, we were the only port in Canada to fund a federal policing agency. However, since policing is not core to our mandate, we decided it was more prudent to fund security measures that do fall within our mandate, and focus on complementing the activities of the police agencies,” the port authority explains.

During the discussion at the council table, Coun. Lois Jackson said, “I think it’s fallen through the cracks. I think the City of Delta, being the home of the port, have got to spend more time ensuring that our port facility, particularly, is a safe place which addresses the importation of any illegal goods.”

Mayor George Harvie agreed, saying the concerns shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone and that council needs assurances the community will be protected.

Canada Border Services Agency has opened a container inspection facility at the Tsawwassen First Nation, but Harvie is concerned only a small percentage of containers are set aside for closer examination.   

The Delta report also notes that in terms of policing, the Delta Police Department has jurisdiction up to the municipal water boundary. Between 2009 and 2018, police responded to more than 750 calls for service at the port.

“It is important to ensure the various policing and enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction at the port, including the RCMP Serious Organized Crime Unit, work collaboratively to address crime at the port,” the report notes.

Council also agreed to have city manager Sean McGill prepare a report taking an even closer look at the issue, comparing U.S. cities that have “robust” port police departments and the likelihood of diversion of illegal and stolen goods through Canada.

In response, Peter Xotta, vice-president of planning and operations at the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, in a statement noted, “The mandate of Canadian port authorities is to facilitate the safe movement of Canada’s trade in a manner that protects the environment and considers local communities. The responsibility for policing the waterfront lies with other agencies, including local police forces, the RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency.”

Xotta added, “The port authority works closely with these agencies to ensure the safety and security of the port. As such, these agencies should speak to security and crime on the waterfront. Cargo-handling personnel are employed by port terminals through the B.C. Maritime Employers Association, which approves employees for port access.”

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