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25 Nov 2017

How secure is Parliament Hill? Most security officials lack extensive …

How secure is Parliament Hill? Most security officials lack extensive …

Story image for security from Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa Citizen4 hours ago
Most of the non-RCMP security officials who patrol Parliament Hill have not undergone extensive background checks, despite many of them being armed and having access to sensitive information. Melissa Rusk, a spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), confirmed on Friday that …

Most of the non-RCMP security officials who patrol Parliament Hill have not undergone extensive background checks, despite many of them being armed and having access to sensitive information.

Melissa Rusk, a spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS), confirmed on Friday that roughly 55 per cent of the service’s non-RCMP officers — most of them protective officers and detection specialists who were employed in Hill security before the PPS was formed two years ago — have not had extensive Enhanced Reliability Security (ERS) checks.

The PPS was formed in June 2015 to bolster Hill security following the Oct. 22, 2014 attack by gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau on the National War Memorial and Centre Block.

The new force combined the Senate and House of Commons protection services, which provided security inside the Parliament Buildings, with the RCMP’s Parliament Hill Security Unit, which was largely responsible for security outside on the grounds.

The RCMP, which was put in charge of PPS’s operations, initially employed its own ERS checks for PPS members, including fingerprint, financial and database checks, loyalty assessments by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and interviews.

According to Rusk, it’s the baseline check for anyone working in law enforcement or intelligence in the federal government, one level below the “secret” clearance the RCMP’s regular members undergo.

The PPS, added Rusk, expects to have its own clearance check, equivalent to the ERS screening, in place next year, but a labour dispute between PPS and three unions representing its workers could threaten that implementation.

About 100 PPS personnel underwent ERS checks before the two unions representing officers with the former Senate and House of Commons protection services objected. The screening was instead replaced with a lower-level “site-access check,” which includes a search of databases for criminal records. The site-access check is conducted by Senate personnel.

Approximately 45 per cent of the non-police PPS staff have undergone either an ERS or site-access check, but the remainder have not undergone any PPS screening.

The importance of the higher-level checks, said Rusk, is two-fold. For one, the RCMP frequently shares information with other international organizations, and uniform ERS or PPS checks across the board help keep that flow moving.

“We say that this information will only be shared with people who have been heavily vetted,” she said.

“One of the lessons we learned, post Oct. 22, is that information is shared, but when it’s shared, it’s because of an officer safety issue or a public safety issue. Making the determination whether the information you have is an officer safety or public safety issue within PPS’s jurisdiction is the initial phase, and if the answer is yes, then the information is disclosed, but having that extra step delays the initial sharing of information, so it’s really important to have a common standard for everybody who’s operational, who’s front-line, so that flow of information and inter-operability isn’t compromised.”

The more extensive check, she added, also cuts down the possibility of what are commonly referred to as “insider threats.”

“You want to ensure the integrity of your organization, that your employees that work within your organization are professional and are there to fulfill the mission and protect Canada’s integrity.

“And you want to ensure the safety of your own employees. When you work in a public safety environment, you’re more subject to being blackmailed if there are things in your life that could be used against you. Things like your finances or your immediate friends and family and their associations. You want to make sure you’re not subject to extortion or blackmail.

“It’s there to protect employees just as much as to protect public safety and the institution.”

bdeachman@postmedia.com

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