This article really brings to light the excess and imbalance of security scrutiny placed on people involved in shipping. This articles deals with port workers, but just imagine how much less rights seagoing personnel have. This reflects a situation in Canada, but I am sure many other countries have similar situations of “security lunacy”.
Port workers and their spouses face more scrutiny than cabinet ministers
DANIEL LEBLANC, With a report from Paul Koring, May 13, 2008
OTTAWA — New rules are forcing Canadian port workers to reveal details about their current and ex-spouses to obtain security clearance, which is a more stringent requirement than the one faced by the country’s ministers.
As the Harper government deals with a furor over the former girlfriend of its Foreign Affairs Minister, critics are arguing that some federal workers face more scrutiny than the cabinet members who are responsible for their work.
Police don’t look at spouses when they do a minister’s background check, but recent rules force federally regulated port workers seeking to work in specially designated zones to provide the date and place of birth of their spouses. In addition, port workers have to provide data on former spouses going back five years.
“Any minister would have access to a great deal more confidential and sensitive information than any of my members,” said Tom Dufresne, president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada. “We certainly shouldn’t have to undergo any deeper background check than a minister of the Crown would,” he said.
During Question Period, the opposition raised security concerns over Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier’s former girlfriend’s ties to biker gangs, arguing that ministers should have to answer for their spouses.
A number of senior federal officials reminisced in recent days about the rigour of their security checks, saying that police interviewed everyone from family members to their cleaning lady. In that context, many people in Ottawa are surprised that ministers don’t face the same checks.
“There are extensive investigations into the spouses of senior bureaucrats, journalists who accompany ministers abroad and even people who work as assistant cooks in fiscal centres,” Bloc Québécois MP Serge Ménard said in the Commons.
“How can we explain that for ministers, especially for a minister of foreign affairs, that there is such laxity?” Mr. Ménard said.
He said ministers bring home confidential documents and it’s important for them to know that checks have been made on their family members.
The Harper government, however, continued to argue yesterday that it does not need to make any security assessment of its ministers’ spouses. Mr. Bernier’s former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, lived with a biker who was killed execution-style and another one who turned police informant in the 1990s.
Mr. Bernier and Ms. Couillard started going out last year, and broke up in recent months.
“Canadians overwhelmingly believe that people’s private lives should be their private lives,” said Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper described opposition leaders as gossipy busybodies for raising the issue.
And Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day told CTV’s Question Period on the weekend that cabinet ministers and MPs simply have to file conflict-of-interest reports that include the financial holdings of their spouses.
Mr. Dufresne said his union is fighting the new rules for port workers in court, arguing they are “over the top” and infringe on Charter rights. He said the government could meet its objectives by adding fences and security guards at the country’s ports, or increase the electronic monitoring of containers.
Federal officials confirmed that they recently introduced a new security clearance program for port workers in sensitive zones, saying they were introduced to prevent criminal activity and terrorist acts in the country’s ports.
Cabinet ministers in other countries undergo checks that include their family members; this includes the United States, where thorough checks are made before appointments are announced.