Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for August 14th, 2008

“Tighter transit security needed now”

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I do not know who Gordon Keast is. All it says on this opinion piece is that he is “a writer based in Surrey”. But he has an agenda all right. And that is to further intrude into your privacy, and make you feel less safe as you go about your daily business.

He wants Translink to introduce random passenger screening on SkyTrain and West Coast Express.

He states “it is virtually impossible to protect the transit system from dedicated suicide bombers or to eliminate all terrorist threats” – and Translink is already “improving” security – but even so he wants to do what no other urban system has introduced. Including the transit systems in London and Madrid which have already experienced fatal attacks.

Although such a system would not provide absolute protection against acts of terrorism, it could deter or redirect terrorists to other less vulnerable targets, according to a study on passenger screening prepared by the U.S.-based Mineta Transportation Institute. As a secondary benefit it might also reduce the number of weapons and drugs carried on our mass transit system.

And that is the agenda. Drugs and weapons are not the threat to passenger safety that a terrorist attack would be – but for people like Mr Keast they are “fair game”. Not that anyone carrying anything like that woudl consent to a random search – and thus would expose themselves to even closer scrutiny. So of course they would simply find other ways to get around. Though why they might be on West Coast Express is hard to fathom. The Hastings bus seems to me to be a more productive place if you really want to find drugs and weapons – but again random searches such as this are not allowed.

It is now well established that if we want to fly we have to be subjected to some gross intrusions into our privacy. And some of the activities of the TSA south of the border have been beyond belief. Forcing a woman to drink her own breast milk being merely one of the incidents that leaps to mind. Of course, the sort of people who are hired to conduct these screenings have low pay and minimal training and have absolutely no ability to exercise common sense or judgment. They are not allowed any discretion, and their supervisors are no more intelligent and not much better trained.

The threat of terrorism has been far more effective than the acts themselves, and we have all collectively been deprived of some of our human rights. The very freedoms we are supposed to be protecting.  Our leaders have persuaded us to voluntarily submit to some, but others such as no fly lists have been simply imposed. And are very obviously totally ineffective at their stated purpose, but really useful for harassing opponents of the regime.

And Mr Keast says that racial profiling would not be permitted. So expect your granny to be subject to some humiliating treatment just to make the numbers balance, and notice that if you wear clothes that may be mistaken for someone from the Middle East or have a really good suntan, its going to take you longer to get to school.

Al Quaeda has been very specific about why it mounts these attacks (hint: the Bush administration’s claim that they “hate freedom” is not among them). They currently are being presented targets much closer to their home base, and seem to be fairly well occupied in killing Canadians and aid workers in Afghanistan. The Canadian military role there is not as “peacekeepers” – something Mr Harper needs to be reminded is our preferred role on the world stage.

I lived in London through the worst of the IRA bombing campaign. We accepted that cctv would be deployed. As a result, Britain has more surveillance than nearly anywhere else and is no safer at all. And one odd consequence of the bomb attacks in the City of London (the financial district in the centre of the urban area) was that there was a sudden U turn in traffic policy there. And all of a sudden, stricter controls on through car traffic appeared. For those of us who had been working for years to reduce the impacts of unnecessary car traffic this was an unexpected and welcome bonus. But I see no advantage at all from becoming the first place to screen passengers on public transit. And anyway, why are not bus passengers to be “protected”? The bombers in London hit a bus too. And the footage of that was much more readily obtained than in the underground and was therefore, in terms of publicity, much more effective.

Mr Keast is simply another fan of Big Brother. And he must be told that we will not tolerate his interference in our lives. He simply fails to understand why the defence of human rights is important. And he plays into the hands of the terrorists, and manages to do their work for them. Becuase he is trying to make you feel unsafe and thus willing to give up your freedom and your dignity.

NO Mr Keast. Emphatically NO!’

UPDATE August 29

Because I trawl through my blogroll every so often I came up with this very useful rebuttal from the CEO of SkyTrain which apparently very nearly didn;t get published.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 14, 2008 at 8:31 am

Posted in transit

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