Drunkenness, sex and violence behind increased security on Labrador ferry, says CEO
Peter Woodward says safety concerns, not racism, is what prompted controversial dockside searches
The CEO of the company providing freight and passenger services to coastal Labrador says serious safety concerns — including drunkenness, public sex acts and fist fights — prompted an alcohol ban aboard the Kamutik W and controversial dockside searches.
Peter Woodward also dismissed suggestions that the stepped-up security was racially motivated.
"We had no choice but to start searching bags and restricting people from having access to alcohol while they were on board the ship," Peter Woodward, CEO of the Woodward Group of Companies, told CBC News Friday afternoon.
"We're treating everybody identically. It doesn't matter what race you are."
Blindsided by the premier's decree
Woodward said he was blindsided Friday by a decree from Premier Dwight Ball that any further searches would be discontinued.
"All I can say is I must assume that the province is going to accept the responsibility for the actions of some of the passengers on board the ship," said Woodward, reached in Halifax by telephone.
Labrador Marine began offering a new ferry service to coastal Labrador this year, using the like-new Kamutik W.
The service is based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and serves communities north to Nain. The vessel typically departs on Monday, and returns on Friday.
Woodward said the captain, with the backing of the company, decided to prohibit alcohol consumption on the vessel following a series of violent incidents he said were fuelled by the consumption of booze.
We've had incidents where people have been performing sex in public areas aboard the ship.- Peter Woodward
And that's not all.
"We've had incidents where people have been performing sex in public areas aboard the ship," Woodward said.
"It's been a very difficult event for the captain and the crew and the rest of the passengers that have been subjected to viewing this."
Controversy flared this week after Torngat Mountains MHA Lela Evans spoke out about security measures she contended applied only to the coastal Labrador service, which is used primarily by Indigenous people, and not other intraprovincial ferry routes.
"Why are ferry users in Northern Labrador being treated differently?" she asked.
She suggested the searches and seizures amounted to discrimination.
The searches caused anger in coastal Labrador, and gained greater attention after a video surfaced showing staff rooting through the bags of a passenger in Rigolet.
New policy needed, says premier
The company responded by saying it would carry out any future searches in a more discreet way.
But it didn't end there. The Department of Transportation and Works dispatched some of its top officials to central Labrador on Thursday to meet with company officials and some Indigenous leaders.
And on Friday, the premier announced the searches "are not continuing."
"What we need now is a policy that [we] will put in place that reflects what's required on this ferry service," Ball added.
Asked if the company will uphold the premier's directive, Woodward said, "They must have a plan they're going to put in place that it's going to prevent the consumption of alcohol because we're not going to operate the ship with passengers that are drunk on board."
Rum in a Thermos
As for that dockside search in Rigolet, Woodward said, the crew discovered a Thermos filled with rum and Coke.
While MHA Evans said earlier this week the luggage searches are a violation of privacy laws. Woodward said passengers are free to refuse, but he added, "If they don't want to have their bags searched then they're free to find another way to travel."
Ball, meanwhile, acknowledged that some questions have to be answered.
"We need to understand why these decisions were made, and I agree that we need to have a policy that's consistent no matter where we are, and must reflect on why they would need to be done," he said.