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Gaps grow in background checks for Parliament Hill security Personnel

24 Nov 17
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A vast majority of the security personnel on Parliament Hill, a number of whom are armed, haven’t had comprehensive background checks and routinely have access to sensitive data despite a lack of official clearance, federal officials say.

The situation applies to two groups of non-police officers employed by the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS): protective officers who carry firearms and operate largely within ancestral buildings, and detection experts who screen visitors and vehicles before they enter protected areas on the Hill.

The PPS was made in 2015 to beef up security in the Parliamentary precinct eight months after a gunman killed a soldier and stormed Centre Block. It combined the former Senate and House of Commons Protection Services and the RCMP’s Parliament Hill Security Unit together with the RCMP in charge of the operation. However, government officials say the majority of the non-RCMP employees in the PPS haven’t had screening equal to that of the RCMP officers.

The RCMP, with intelligence-sharing agreements around the world, regularly shares findings about possible dangers throughout the PPS. By way of instance, the RCMP provides intelligence to non-police officers which comes in the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC), though the recipients lack the essential security clearance.

When PPS was created, the RCMP started to employ its own screening to each the members of the new service. About 100 of those non-RCMP security employees received it. It features fingerprint tests, financial queries, a loyalty evaluation by Canada’s spy agency and, sometimes, in-person interviews. Clearances are periodically reviewed.

However, both unions representing officers who had worked for the House of Commons and Senate objected to the change, and it was stopped prior to all workers had gone through the screening, PPS spokeswoman Melissa Rusk said. It had been replaced by a procedure referred to as a site-access check.

As it stands, 56 percent of the non-RCMP employees were working on the Hill before 2015 and don’t have any PPS security clearance, Ms. Rusk said. They were assessed before their hiring, but they weren’t all carrying firearms at the time and the clearances weren’t reviewed.

The remaining 44 percent of the non-police PPS employees either have the RCMP clearance or, more commonly, the site-access check.

Developed by Senate administrators, this procedure goes through databases, including a check for criminal records, but it’s not as comprehensive as an investigation which includes fingerprint checks. Additionally, it stops short of complete monetary checks that could reveal vulnerability to blackmail, or extended family checks which could expose different dangers, sources said.

Ms. Rusk said a new security standard, which is more demanding than the site-access test and “will apply to all PPS workers,” should be prepared to be implemented by next year.

But a labor dispute over contract bargaining between the PPS and the three unions that represent its workers could stall the efforts. The dispute has been heating up lately. The PPS has disciplined staff for sporting lime-green ball caps to draw attention to the difficulties.

Roch Lapensée, whose union represents former House workers, said his members were vetted and deemed to be trusted at the time of the hiring. He said the PPS hasn’t consulted him about the new security screening, and criticized the RCMP for attempting to impose its own standards on his or her members.

“We’ve been here for over a hundred years. We don’t have to have the RCMP culture imposed upon us, we do not desire it,” said Mr. Lapensée, who’s the president of the Security Services Employees Association.

RCMP officers and security personnel from the House of Commons gunned down Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on Oct. 22, 2014, after he murdered Corporal Nathan Cirillo in the War Memorial and stormed through Parliament’s Centre Block.

The incident exposed security gaps in the symbolic heart of Canadian democracy, and tensions between the groups providing that security. A review of this event by the Ontario Provincial Police concluded that “the approach to the safety and protection of Parliament Hill is highly insufficient”

Sources said the RCMP is concerned it can’t act on a number of the recommendations made following the terrorist attack, including improving security clearances to stop “cyber dangers.”

Until the Introduction of the PPS in 2015, the RCMP patrolled the grounds of Parliament Hill, while the House and Senate security staff worked the inside the buildings.

Now, the RCMP is gradually replacing Mounties on the Hill in outside places with PPS protective officers.

In the coming months, a number of those RCMP-branded cars on the Hill is going to be replaced by six new vehicles in the colors of the PPS. Eight PPS officers have received extensive training and began working alongside Mounties in recent weeks on cellular response teams intended to be in the forefront in critical incidents.

Additionally, the Mounties who screened all vehicles entering Parliament Hill because the terrorist attack have been substituted by non-RCMP detection experts. The RCMP will also begin to place more more PPS officers in “static places” — on the streets on Parliament Hill and in front of buildings.

Officially, the changes would be to make the best use of PPS’s $65-million yearly budget. In salary, overhead and training, it’s projected that filling security positions with RCMP officers costs about twice as much as using non-RCMP protective officers.

“We continue to appear at the efficacy of our security position and the optimisation of our tools,” Assistant Commissioner Mike Duheme, commanding officer of the RCMP’s National Division, said in an interview. “This funding comes from taxpayers, and it is my responsibility to always be reviewing practices, look at who’s doing what, to maximize our resources and to constantly be on the watch for efficiencies.”

The changes are considered a first step toward addressing concerns over the RCMP obtaining the total responsibility for safety on the Hill. Several parliamentarians dislike the fact the RCMP, which reports to the executive branch of government instead of the legislative branch, is officially in charge of safety in the nation’s legislative chambers.

“It is wholly unacceptable that the Prime Minister controls the firearms which are in Parliament,” NDP MP David Christopherson said during a recent committee hearing.

Additionally, connections are still tense between the 3 groups which were merged to form PPS, such as complaints over the quality of every group’s equipment, vehicles and rest areas.

The Security Services Employees Association complains that its members that carry firearms still lack the name “peace officer,” which would grant them additional powers of arrest and detention akin to their RCMP coworkers.

“The complete transition can’t happen until the protective officers possess the very same rights and authorities as RCMP officers,” Mr. Lapensée stated. “We’ve been requesting the status of peace officer for more than 20 years.”

Mr. Lapensée contended that the transition from the RCMP officers to PPS employees is too slow and doesn’t go far enough. The new PPS vehicles won’t have police lights and can’t be driven faster than normal speed limits, even in emergencies.

Mr. Lapensée stated the speakers of the House and the Senate would have to approve new funding to accelerate the transition, with increased budgets for training and new equipment.

“We’d like things to move more quickly, but that would take more money,” he said.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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