The U.S. Customs Service is sending “special agents” to the ports of Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver. GARY ZATZMAN
HALIFAX (19 March 2002) – More than 40 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) derives from exports, and more than 85 per cent of that is with the United States. With their road-rail links and container-handling facilities, the ports of Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver play an especially crucial role in providing essential transportation infrastructure. As of March 25, the US Customs Service is sending “special agents” to each location to monitor cargo handling in the name of stepping up the so-called “war against terrorism” of the Bush administration.
This plan has been in development since Bush’s boss of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, handed Canadian officials a 30-point ultimatum last December of what would have to be “fixed” if Canadian businesses wanted a relatively free flow of goods resumed across the border. Late in January, the government announced the Americans were coming. On March 9, a week ahead of his next bootlicking session with Ridge in Washington, John Manley officially advised The Canadian Press that the American agents will be “unarmed.” Speaking more like a deputy traffic cop from the local security detail than the deputy prime minister of a formally sovereign state, Manley added that “there are no more red-light issues. There are still some yellows. We moved some of those to green.”
This is the “green light” from the bourgeoisie that US imperialism can proceed “unarmed” (because the rich don’t plan to resist) with their latest coup and take Canada’s transport infrastructure hostage in the name of the “war against terrorism.”
Such national media as CTV Ottawa correspondent Mike Duffy and The Globe and Mail (both owned by Bell Globemedia) have compared the placing of these agents in the ports to American Customs “pre-clearance” of passengers boarding US-bound flights in Canadian airports. But the real attitude of the bourgeoisie was succinctly summarised in the editorial headline of a Halifax newspaper which lauded this development: “Better safe than sovereign.” The realities of implementation attending these schemes thoroughly give the lie to the “pre-clearance” comparison.
The first target was and remains …the ports workers. During January and February, the RCMP and a Senate committee headed by Senator Colin Kenney put it about everywhere that 15 to 39 per cent of stevedores in Canada’s ports have criminal records. Solution? Have the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) run background checks and issue I.D. cards to those who pass inspection.
But why CSIS, rather than, for example, the local port capitalists? Because ports workers are unionised; the longshoremen’s union has authority over the “hiring hall” (i.e., the supply of workers for specific cargo-handling tasks at specific vessels). The local authorities can bask in the glow of doing their bit for the “war against terrorism,” while CSIS does the dirty work of subverting the workers’ organisations of economic self-defence.
Thus, according to the Canadian bourgeoisie, not only does the country have to hand control over port activities to the US so it will feel “safe,” but the workers have to reconsider how they defend and advance struggles to improve wages and working conditions in the light of Bush’s warning that “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
1. Robert Russo, The Canadian Press Washington Bureau, “US customs agents at port won’t tote guns: American officers to start Halifax shifts on March 25,” The Sunday Herald (Halifax), Sun 10 Mar 02, p.A4
2. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald / The Mail-Star, Tue 22 Jan 02, p.B1
3. Robert Fife, “Improve port security, Chretien tells police forces,” National Post, Mon 4 Mar 02, p.A4
Source: TML Daily, March 19, 2002 – No. 52