Marine security riddled with gaps: whistleblower

Canada's marine security regulations are riddled with gaps that put the country at risk, says a federal bureaucrat in a never-before released report obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act.

Canada's marine security regulations are riddled with gaps that put the country at risk, says a federal bureaucrat in a never-before released report obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act.

Transport Canada hastily drafted marine security regulations, largely copied from U.S. rules, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, writes an award-winning civil servant and former naval officer who has since left the department.

Ian Bron, 41, served as Transport Canada's chief of marine security regulatory affairs and held several other jobs within the department between 2003 and 2006.

So-called gaps identified in his December 2006 report could mean a lack of proper screening at marine facilities, and some vessels not being covered by security regulations.

"It is the opinion of the author that this represents a significant risk to the health and economic security of Canadians by perpetuating vulnerabilities in the marine transportation sector," says the report, obtained by the Canadian Press.

"It is also the author's assessment that the soundness of the maritime security regime has been misrepresented to the Minister of Transport and to the Canadian public at large."

Specific gaps are blanked out in the report obtained under the access act. But an uncensored version, shown to the Canadian Press, lists gaps, including:

  • Authorized screening isn't done in marine facilities.
  • Barges aren't covered by marine security regulations.
  • Certain vessels are able to suspend security procedures.
  • Vessels and marine facilities circumvent the marine security regulations using declarations of security.
  • Domestic ferries aren't regulated.

Report distributed before author left Transport

Bron, who was honoured with a deputy minister's commendation for his work on marine safety regulations in 2004, distributed the report before leaving Transport Canada for a job in the Public Works Department.

Now he's embroiled in a court battle with his former superiors.

Bron sent the report to the auditor general, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon, the Public Service Integrity Office and Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the Senate committee on national security and defence.

Catherine Loubier, Cannon's communications director, confirmed in an e-mail the transport minister knew of the report.

"The minister was informed by his officials of the existence of that report and immediately took action, asking his officials to review it and assess it," she wrote.

"This examination is ongoing and as it is before the Superior Court of Justice, I can't help you with further comments. What I can tell you is that Canada's marine transportation system is one of the safest and most secure transportation systems in the world."

But the report says Transport Canada's marine security directorate lacks the resources and training to properly enforce its safety regulations.

"Little or no action has been taken to address serious gaps in the regulations," the report adds.

Earlier this month, Transport Canada angered officials in Owen Sound, Ont., by erecting a barbed-wire anti-terrorism fence along the local harbour. City council said the fence — which is 60 metres long, stands more than two metres high and has gates at both ends — is unnecessary since the small port only sees an international ship once every few years.

Transport Canada gives self high marks

Bron's report was released under the access law the same day Transport Canada published another study giving the department high marks for its marine security initiatives.

And it came to light after Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn fired Linda Keen as head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for her handling of last year's Chalk River reactor shutdown, which led to a shortage of medical isotopes.

Some say Keen's firing could send a chill through the government, with civil servants fearing reprisals if they break political lockstep.

"I am a test case. What they want to do is find ways to shut me up," Bron said in an interview. "If they get away with this, you can kiss whistle-blowing goodbye."

Court documents filed last September allege Transport Canada senior management retaliated against Bron when he raised the issues in the report. The statement of claim says there have been "many instances of harassment" by management, although incidents are blanked out in the released report.

The report also highlights "travel irregularities," such as trips to industry events with "little operational utility." It says management accepted expensive meals and drinks from industry representatives, and favoured some over others during consultations.

Bron's statement says managers in Transport Canada's marine security directorate "routinely disclosed" sensitive information to industry representatives who lacked security clearance or background checks.

Suit seeks $4 million in total damages

Bron is suing the auditor general, two Transport Canada directors, an assistant deputy director and a director now with the nuclear safety commission.

The lawsuit seeks $3 million in general damages and $1 million in aggravated and punitive damages.

A statement of defence filed last November says Bron is not a whistle-blower because his allegations are "what he perceives to be injustices perpetuated against him and not about institutional wrong-doing that have a public interest component."

It notes Bron faces a harassment complaint from his former superiors.

None of the allegations has been proven in court. Transport Canada hired consulting firm Deloitte and Touche last May to probe issues raised in Bron's report, the defence statement says.

As of last November, the investigation was still ongoing. Transport Canada officials didn't immediately respond to queries.