A terrorist attack on Canadian soil is expected and has been talked about for years now.
“It’s not a matter of if, but when.” That sounds like an alarmist statement to a lay person but it’s one I’ve heard more than a dozen times in the last year at conferences or casual meetings from high-level security people responsible for both critical infrastructure as well as financial organizations located in the core areas of Toronto and Ottawa. In the case of Toronto, it’s from people responsible for facilities that sit right on the city’s transit system. And while cameras can’t stop an incident from happening, the bombings in London clearly spell out why having good camera systems in place pays off.
If transit is a national security issue, why then is the federal
government approaching the funding of security for commuter rail,
underground and surface transit systems in a piecemeal fashion by
handing out cash to the largest commuter system in this country in such
In early September, just as we were wrapping up the story on the lack
of federal funding for a new surveillance system at the Toronto Transit
Commission, the Minister of Transport announced the third round of
Transit-Secure funding, the $80 million program created to beef up
security at the nation’s largest and most at risk rail and bus systems.
The first round of funding had provided just $1.46 million for the TTC
of $37 million announced, right at the same time as the transit
authority was getting ready to roll out a $14.8 million surveillance
project on streetcars and buses. At the time, local politicians called
it “spit in the eye.” The news for Toronto on Sept. 5 was somewhat
brighter — it would be getting an additional $6.4 million for subway
cameras. Good news, but what about the bus and streetcar project?
One has to wonder if the Harper government is dragging out the funding
announcements to get the greatest bang for its buck in terms of public
relations with the taxpayer. If it has multiple announcements for
security funding, perhaps voters will get the impression the federal
government is adequately funding security in this country.
The TTC claims its project was delayed because of a Human Rights
Commission decision requiring them to install a call stop system for
visually impaired passengers. But why was the TTC put in the position
where it was forced to delay its security system project due to a lack
of funding? If the federal government had stepped up sooner the system
might not have been delayed.
The other question is whether a proper national assessment has been
done to determine what transit facilities really need to improve
security to passengers? Are national security advisors involved in
creating standards that must be followed by the municipal operators?
Better still, are Canadian transit facilities installing systems that
are truly state-of-the-art, or will the systems be considered
sub-standard within a year?
As noted by a Chicago-based transportation expert in the story on the
TTC in this issue, the video surveillance systems being installed in
large urban transit systems in the U.S. feed real-time images from
vehicles to transit operating centres and police can call up the images
on computers in their cars while a crime is in progress. Wouldn’t that
have been beneficial when a young girl was seriously injured last year
riding on a TTC bus with her mother? A stray bullet hurt the girl after
a fight broke out on the bus she was riding on. That case was never
Systems like the TTC in the nation’s largest commuter city are already
under financial pressure to continue to serve heavily-used routes need
the support of government to make sure riders are safe and secure now,
not over time.