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Hell's Angels @ Air Canada

Fri Aug 02, 2002 1:25 am

From Global News Toronto:{EE37809E-7ECE-40CA-809B-668085CEF221}

Thursday, August 01, 2002

OTTAWA - Attempts by police to infiltrate criminal gangs at Canada's busiest airport were blocked by Air Canada, a Senate committee examining this country's vulnerability to terrorists has been told.

Two recently retired senior police investigators told the Senate security and defence committee that members of the Hells Angels work for the airline at Toronto's Pearson Airport, but the airline will not allow police to infiltrate the group.

The witnesses also told the committee that thousands of people who work at the airports have relatively unhindered access to the planes and someone could easily place an explosive on one.

The two men, who still work at the airport for a private company, said that both police and Air Canada's own investigations unit have repeatedly asked for permission to work undercover in the company's cargo area, but the requests are refused by Air Canada's human resources department.

"These measures are endeavours to concentrate on organized crime working within Air Canada and are meant to weed out the Hells Angels who are working at Air Canada Cargo, meant to weed out Mafia and organized crime, which are networked throughout the airport," one of the former officers said. "When proposals are put forward to infiltrate these groups, they are stonewalled."

An Air Canada spokeswoman said the airline has "a long-standing history of co-operating with law enforcement agencies in this country and around the world." Laura Cooke said the airline has a policy of not discussing investigations so as not to compromise their security.

The allegations are found in sworn, in-camera testimony to the Senate committee on June 24 in Toronto, a copy of which was obtained by the National Post. The committee has been examining security at Canada's sea- and airports in the light of the September 11 attacks.

The names of the witnesses are not being made public, but the two retired police officers state they have 26 and 28 years of experience with the Toronto Police Service with senior responsibilities for international drug trafficking, outlaw motorcycle gangs and Pearson airport. Another witness, a lawyer and pilot who sits on several boards of aircraft companies, also testified anonymously.

Inspector Sam Landry, the top RCMP officer for the Toronto Airport Detachment, told the committee in an open session that the force's "primary concern" is the criminal activity that takes place at the airport.

Insp. Landry did say that security problems can have more serious repercussions. "It should be noted we have no concrete evidence to suggest that there is a direct link between organized crime and terrorism," Insp. Landry said. "However, any infiltration of our border at Toronto Airport by the criminal element also has the potential of being exploited by those associated with extreme terrorism."

He said that in 1995 there were 250 uniformed and 40 plainclothes RCMP at the Toronto airport. Today, there are 59 RCMP, 93 Peel Regional Police officers and 10 officers from other police services, for a total of 162.

The two anonymous former officers said the RCMP and Peel Regional Police planned to place a person for a long time as a member of the cargo staff, but police couldn't go ahead without the support of the airline's union and human resources branch.

"You still have to deal with the union issue and go through HR to be an employee of Air Canada," one officer said. "You cannot circumvent that or the flags go off. You do not walk in and say, 'Hi I'm Joe, I'm just the new guy working here.' "

The second officer agreed, saying: "In terms of Pearson, to try and initiate, to try to place an undercover operator inside the workforce is almost impossible and is something that needs to be done."

When the senators asked what reason Air Canada gave for not participating, one officer answered: "They didn't say. They just say no, you're not doing it. Public image. It wouldn't look good on the front page of the newspaper if the Air Canada cargo warehouse was cleaned out, or the Montreal cargo warehouse was cleaned out."

The third witness, who described himself as a senior airline executive, said everyone involved at the airport would be embarrassed by a thorough security audit. The witness also said it's in everyone's financial interest for the public to believe the "illusion" of safety.

"In one sense, we know it's not safe; but the part that is not illusory is that everybody is making money; we are all making money. If we scare the hell out of everyone, we will not make money. I think it is embarrassment. I think it is a commercial motive and possibly other fears."

Colin Kenny, a Liberal Senator who chairs the committee, described the anonymous witnesses as "very credible" and said the in-camera testimony was necessary because officials from Air Canada, Pearson Airport, Transport Canada and Peel Police either refused or were reluctant to answer detailed questions about security.

"The question would be, what is Transport Canada hiding and what is Pearson International hiding," Mr. Kenny asked. He said the airport did not want the senators to look at how they handled baggage, even though the committee had had similar tours at the Vancouver and Montreal airports.

"Why are things so messed up at Pearson that they're concerned about having parliamentarians take a look to see if Canadians are getting value for the $12 tax that they're paying? We want to have an accounting of where that $12 tax is going and we want to see the value to Canadians and we're not prepared to settle for a 'trust us' answer."

The in-camera witnesses said many of the post-Sept. 11 security changes have focused on screening passengers, but little has been done to address the thousands of people who work at the airport and have access to the planes, such as baggage handlers, caterers and maintenance workers.

"The problem is that there are trucks, cars and individuals in the thousands flowing into the ramp areas just in order to service the airplanes," said the pilot.

Airport employees receive a security badge, witnesses said, but after that they are not screened, even though they can bring tools, lunch boxes and duffle bags to work. Also, there are many private companies -- such as aircraft refurbishers -- that work near the runways. Many of those workers are not cleared by security, they said.

Furthermore, the guard in charge of keeping people who work in those buildings from entering the fenced-in main airport is usually asleep. "Ninety-nine times out of 100, he is asleep," said one officer.

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Joined: Tue Feb 13, 2001 1:33 am

RE: Hell's Angels @ Air Canada

Fri Aug 02, 2002 1:55 am

Well, it's about time the issue of security is getting out, and I hope this isn't the end of it. It's a disgrace that the only people who are really being screened are the air crew, while everybody else, from Tim Horton's workers, maintenance staff, duty free people, etc etc are not being screened or anything. It's very easy to have an inside worker bring something harmful into the airport, while a passenger goes through security, and then is handed over any items they need in order to cause harm to the crew and passengers on a particular flight. This is scary, and of course, until something bad happens, nothing will be done, because there is a perception that things are safe now, only because passengers pay the stupid security fee. And like the article states, probably nothing will be done because things are going relatively well now, the airline is making money, so why scare people?

This is a disservice to everybody, especially considering the crap we saw on September 11th and the exorbitant fees we pay in order to have what should be top notch security. We all deserve better!!!
"it's kind of like an Airbus, it's an engineering marvel, but there's no sense of passion" -- J. Clarkson re: Coxster

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