A need to know basis

A lack of transparency belies a larger problem in the culture of policing and security

On the morning of Oct. 22, after murdering Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial, a gunman entered the Centre Block on Parliament Hill and opened fire, injuring three people before being incapacitated.

What sort of security measures are being taken in Winnipeg’s government buildings in response to this tragedy? The short answer: nobody knows.

The City of Winnipeg, the provincial government of Manitoba and Winnipeg Police Service have all refused to talk to the media on this topic. 

A statement from the City reads, “The City of Winnipeg takes the safety of people very seriously. In consultation with the Winnipeg Police Service, security is in place to protect citizens, Council and employees, but we do not discuss such measures.” 

The Province of Manitoba issued a similarly brief statement, while police declined to provide any statement at all.

Angela Carlson, a first-year student at the University of Winnipeg, says she thinks the lack of communication is troubling.

“Keeping us in the dark just causes more fear,” Carlson says.

Kevin Walby, an assistant professor in the U of W’s department of criminal justice and an expert on policing, security and freedom of information, says public knowledge of security protocol is less of a threat than one might think.

“It’s not very elaborate,” Walby says of the security strategies being used. “Parliament Hill is a good example. There were CCTV cameras on the outer wall of every building on the Hill and every building across the street. It’s completely live monitored, but there are still gaps that people can exploit.”

Walby says the secrecy from City Hall and the Legislature is indicative of a larger problem in the culture of policing and security.

“I would call it a bad habit. Policing and security agencies have, for a long time, approached their work from a secrecy-first standpoint. It belies a lack of trust in the general public.”

According to Walby, the secretive world of corporate security is a major contributor to the lack of communication.

“When we think of corporate security, we usually think of the Ford Motor Company,” Walby says, referring to the car manufacturer’s task force that violently oppressed workers’ rights during the Great Depression. “But that model from the private sector has completely transferred to the public sector. Every public body now has a corporate security entity within it. Manitoba Hydro has a giant one. There’s one in the Leg as well.”

Corporate security entities receive their training from private firms like Canadian Tactical Training Academy or the American Society for Industrial Security. Unlike the police, they aren’t subject to public accountability.

“There are no oversight boards, no councils to report to the public,” Walby says. “You’ll never find a website for them. But they are in charge of technology, protocols, everything.”

Walby says that, for the interests of the public, more transparency is needed.

“Anything that security agencies or police do should be subject to public input. It’s crucial if we want to keep saying we live in a democratic society.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 5, 2014)

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