Winter Olympic private security force raises concerns

Published 9 November 2009

A Canadian company has been awarded the contract to find 5,000 security guards for the Winter Olympics which open in Vancouver in 100 days; security experts say that “‘Certain facets of security screening can be overlooked in a rush”

With 100 days to go until the opening of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, questions are being raised about the process used to hire thousands of private security guards. The company contracted to find 5,000 security guards for the Olympics, Contemporary Security Canada (CSC), announced Tuesday that more than 90 percent of them have already been hired.

CBC news reports, though, that security experts told CBC News they’re concerned about the screening of applicants. “The hiring itself could represent a vulnerability in security,” said David Harris, a former director with CSIS, Canada’s national security agency. When you consider the many months required in adequate screening of security in government, it does seem a little surprising that we expect masses of individuals taken on board in less time,” Harris said.

“We know people can overlook certain facets of security if they’re in a rush to bring people on,” he added. “What about details of their background? Do they have inclinations to ideological, religious or other forms of radicalism that could be relevant to prevailing terrorist themes these days?”

A CSC spokesman said, however, that Harris’s concerns are unfounded. Candidates get training designed by the RCMP, according to CSC project director Todd Severson.
“We’re following all the background checks required by us, and we’re following the RCMP guidelines for what they want in training,” said Severson. “If the trainees don’t meet the requirements then they’re let go.”

“Where are they finding these bodies?”

More than 4,900 guards were hired in three months. The company says all have now undergone multiple background checks. The sheer volume hired in such a short time also poses questions for another expert. “You would wonder where they’re finding these 5,000 bodies,” said criminologist Randy Lippert, who specializes in private security research at the University of Windsor. “Essentially, private security personnel are often taken from the bottom of the labor pool,” Lippert said.

Severson said this has not been his company’s experience on the Olympic project.
“I think the reverse is true, actually. We’re getting a higher caliber of student in our classes than you might see in the typical security industry, because we’re drawing people from so many industries and they’re really engaged and interested in the work we’re doing,” Severson said.

RCMP Cpl. Bert Paquet of the Olympic security unit said the private security process is well in hand. “There’s not a system that’s 100 percent, but there will be no shortcuts to process that amount of people in order to make sure the people are security-cleared,” Paquet told CBC News.

Paquet also said it is not the first time the RCMP has used private security in a major operation. He said once the private security personnel are in place, they will be monitored by public police forces during the Games.