Tories announce $37M in transit security funds

The Conservative government announced $37 million in funding Tuesday to beef up security on public transit systems in Canada's biggest cities.

The Conservative government announced $37 million in funding Tuesday to beef up securityon public transit systems in Canada's biggest cities.

Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon announcedthat Toronto and Montreal will get the lion's share of the money, while the rest of the funding will go to Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and the Ottawa region.

The money is part of the $80 million that Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged in June for transit security.

"I think what we're seeing in this announcement is that it's a kind of wake-up call for commuters that we are not immune [from terrorism], thatwe live in a global environment now," said Drew Snider, spokesman for Vancouver's Translink.

Within the last three years, bombings on transit systems in Madrid, London and Mumbai killed more than 420 people and injured at least 2,500 more.

Thefunding is meant to improve surveillance and communication networks on transit systems, as well as hiring additional staff.

Measures seen as overdue

Wesley Wark, of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies, said the measures are long overdue.

"We could easily be a target for terrorist attacks," Wark said. "We've been named by al-Qaeda as a target nation, so while we might like to think we're not a likely target, you just can't gamble with that."

However, Ward added, no amount of money can make a transit system invulnerable.

"They're open, they're vulnerable, they're so-called 'soft targets' in the professional jargon," he said. "You can do some things: You can have closed-circuit TV's that are a help; you can a bit more visible security measures in terms of armed police and guards, and so on."

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier was quick to point out that the threat of terrorist activity isn't the only reason transit security should be improved.

"The requests that we have are not just for terrorism, they're for day-to-day issues that deal with security in public spaces and public places," he said.

Montreal already installing cameras

The Société de transport de Montréal has already installed 530 closed-circuit cameras and has plans to install an additional 700.

Still, Andre Bouchard of Garda, a security consulting firm, said Montreal, like most cities in the country, has a lower level of transit security compared with many cities in the world, partly because that's what Canadians are comfortable with.

"We're way behind," Bouchard said. "But do you want police officers with machine-guns walking through your metro like they do in London? Do you want police walking through the metro system like they do in Italy?

"It's what the society wants."

The announcement by the Conservatives follows a pledge by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June to award up to $80 million for transit security.

with files from the Canadian Press