Militarization of Canadian ports: Violation of rights of Maritime workers and annexation in the name of ‘security’

By TONY SEED

REPRESENTATIVES of Canadian maritime port workers have denounced draconian “security” measures aimed at criminalizing their rights. Under the aegis of the “war on terror” of the Bush administration, the federal government announced by executive order on 16 November 2006 that maritime port workers in Canada will be required to pass background checks. News agency reports are vague about both the origin of the demand and the content of the new Marine Transportation Security Regulations.

The regulatory change, announced by Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon of the minority Conservative government, means that port workers who perform certain duties or who have access to certain restricted areas will need “transportation security clearance.” The requirements will apply to seafarers, marine pilots, wharfingers, and security personnel.

The change will be phased in and initially apply to ports in Halifax, Montreal, Fraser River, North Fraser River, Vancouver, and St. Lawrence Seaway traffic centres in St. Lambert, Quebec, and St. Catharines, Ontario. It is not even clear how many workers will be affected.

The arbitrary measures implement the calls for a security perimeter for Fortress America made by the so-called Independent Task Force on the Future of North America and Liberal Party annexationist John Manley. The main thrust of the proposals from the Task Force are either already being implemented through the Smart Border Action Plan, NORAD reform, defence reform, Homeland Security exercises and the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) Regulation initiative. As of 25 March 2002, the U.S. Customs Service had also sent “special agents” to the ports of Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver, the three largest in Canada, to monitor cargo handling in the name of stepping up the so-called war against terrorism.

The arbitrary regulation is part of a wide series of measures implementing a North American strategic perimeter for Fortress America in the service of North American monopolies and their drive for war. The measures include the Smart Border Action Plan, new NORAD military arrangements, defence reform, Homeland Security exercises and the SMART Regulation initiative.

The so-called Independent Task Force on the Future of North America, set up by the Liberal Party headed by annexationist John Manley, is an agency sponsored by the U.S. Council on Foreign Affairs in association with the annexationist Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations. This is the very U.S. Council on Foreign Affairs which is acting like the black hand behind the all-round preparations for fascism and war.

The Task Force is calling for the building of a North American economic and security community by 2010. The chairs of the Task Force propose a common external tariff for Canada, Mexico and the U.S. along with a “security perimeter.”

A central feature of port regulation is the criminalization of maritime ports workers. The Canadian program mirrors both an Australian and a new U.S. port security program –Transportation Worker Identification Credential program of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard – which were also scheduled to start later in 2006. The U.S. measures enforce biometric card identification and require all port workers, including about 110,000 truck drivers who enter port facilities (many of whom are lowly-paid and non-unionized migrant workers), to prove that they are legal U.S. residents.

Workers at some Canadian ports have already been subjected to “routine screening” for criminal records. However, the new regime reportedly includes security-database checks, credit checks and immigration-database checks. The worker must “apply” and the “applicant” must provide a verifiable name, address, spouse’s name, names of family members, fingerprints, description of skin colour, work history and travel history. Relatives could be interviewed, and if any of this resulted in a “reasonable suspicion” about an applicant, he could be turned down. The “applicants” are reportedly to be vetted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which will act as judge, jury and hiring hall.

Trade unions have voiced some opposition to the moves since Ottawa first began preparing public opinion for the measures in 2002, declaring longshoremen a “law and order” problem and leaking sensational statistics from the RCMP to the media about their allegedly “criminal” background. During January and February, 2002, the RCMP and a Senate committee headed by Senator Colin Kenney of Nova Scotia put it about everywhere that 15 to 39 per cent of stevedores in Canada’s ports have criminal records. Nevertheless, the RCMP inspector in charge of security at the Port of Vancouver, following a two-year investigation, informed the Senate’s national security committee in early 2005 that organized crime does not run Vancouver’s waterfront.

“We’re all in favour of making sure that it’s a secure place to work,” says Tom Dufresne, president of port workers’ umbrella group Canadian Maritime Workers Council (CMWC). “But we feel the regulations, as they’re currently printed, miss the mark and that they fail to address severe and serious security gaps in the system.”

The reality attending these schemes thoroughly give the lie to concerns of “security.” The CMWC asserts that the measures are aimed to create “a false sense of security” and have very little to do, if anything, with “security.” In a letter to Transport Canada on 30 August 2006, Tom Dufresne, CMWC President, pointed out:

* One can easily track “the movements of individual shipping containers by consulting publicly available data on the internet sites of international shipping companies. With this information, anyone wishing to track a shipment for nefarious purposes can do so from the comfort of their home computer.”

* Only a fraction of shipping containers are inspected (three per cent or less)

* Empty containers which once were routinely inspected for security reasons are never inspected now.

* Security on the water and air side of vessels in port is non-existent.

* Shipping companies who control the movement of containers are not covered by the regulation and their employees will not require security clearance.

* No facility located off-port will be covered by the proposed regulatory regime, including those that load and unload containers.

That the ultimate targets of the “war against terrorism” are perceived political opponents of government policy and the labour movement is ever more apparent. In the United States in June 2002, when the longshoremen’s union was locked in a showdown with shipping bosses, then Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge intervened to threaten that any strike action by the workers would be a threat to “national security.” Then Washington brought down the Taft-Hartley Act against the union. On 7 April 2003, predicated on “intelligence” information in an anti-terrorism “advisory,” riot gear-equipped police at the Port of Oakland opened fire on legal observers, longshoremen and port truckers and antiwar protesters, with wooden bullets and concussion grenades. The American longshoremen on the Pacific coast courted “enemy combatant” status to defend their rights. Trade unionists – from striking teachers in Middletown, New Jersey in 2001, to transit workers in New York City who voted to strike in 2002, to the National Education Association in February 2004 – have been vilified as “terrorists” or “Taliban” intent on a “jihad.”

Furthermore, the “security” provisions aim at breaking down the unionized job security of port workers which hamper the privatization of port infrastructure and the neo-liberal free trade agenda offensive of the state. Transport Canada has been front and centre in promoting U.S. annexationist interests for Canada in close collaboration with the U.S. Homeland Security agency, which now controls the U.S. Coast Guard and 361 U.S. ports.

Government’s Modus Operandi

The government’s method has been to pressure port unions and shipping corporations to participate with Transport Canada as “stakeholders” in “consultations,” and developing this and that “pilot project” involving selected “screened” individuals in key positions to monitor maritime traffic.

Having secured their collaboration, it then went ahead and arbitrarily implemented broad measures targeting all port workers.

The CMWC letter points out: “It is most unfortunate that Transport Canada’s sage approach to drafting the regulation in consultation with stakeholders may be offset by its rather hasty decision to proceed with the publication in Canada Gazette Part 1 [published July 1, 2006 – TML Ed.] before the most meaningful stage of the consultative process has been completed.”

Transport Canada attempted to divert focus from the fact that the “security” measures constitute a violation of the rights of port workers and the criminalization of their collective. Officially, in both the legislative debate and in the media, the diversion is how to have “fairer” security, as though the well-being and rights of the workers can be criminalized in a “fair” manner.

The CMWC points out: “Even though the proposed Marine Transportation Security Clearance Program (MTSCP) will give little more than a false sense of security, it comes with a high cost to individual liberties. The MTSCP targets honest workers most of whom have little power to direct or control the movement of cargo or to affect conditions at Canadian ports in a manner that would permit a security incident.”

Secondly, the government and the big port and shipping cartels are ideologically attempting to mobilize the maritime ports workers to support these regulations and their intensified exploitation in the name of “making Canada competitive.” It demands that they endorse respective annexationist strategies called “Pacific Gateway” for British Columbia ports and “Atlantic Gateway” and “Atlantica” for the ports of Halifax and Saint John. The Atlantica strategy envisages integration of Maritimes Canada and New England. It is being pushed by the Irving empire, amongst other big molochs.

There can be nothing positive for the Canadian people in joining with the “community” of U.S. imperialism.

Source: TML Daily, February 2, 2007 – No. 16

http://www.cpcml.ca/Tmld2007/D37016.htm

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