The Guardian 16 March, 2005

Terror laws used
to attack Canadian unions


VANCOUVER: Last month nearly 1000 people heard a panel forum on the topic of "The War on Democratic Rights", organised by StopWar.ca, the broad-based Vancouver anti-war coalition. One of the speakers was peace activist Terry Engler, President of Local 400, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), which represents towboat operators along the British Colombian (BC) coast. The following is his speech which focused on Ottawa's moves to "improve security" as part of the so-called "war on terror".

The trade union movement and its members have been significantly impacted by the war on democratic rights. One of the most famous early BC trade union activists was Ginger Goodwin. He had been deemed unfit for military service at his physical, but after his union activism became more prominent, he was reclassified as "fit" and subsequently shot and killed for refusing to join the military.

The so-called Cold War and the McCarthy era in the 1950s and '60s were especially harmful to the trade union movement. The government and employers could use the Red scare to describe unions as traitorous due to their connections with the Communist Party of Canada and other left-wing groups.

Many trade union officials and members agreed with the pro-worker positions taken by left-wing political groups. Many joined these parties because they believed in workers' rights and opposed capitalism. As the Cold War built up steam in Canada, activist unions were attacked for their belief in workers rights and labelled "commie" or "red" unions.

One of these was the Canadian Seamen's Union (CSU), which was the precursor to my union local. The CSU was a militant, democratic union that won the eight-hour day for seafarers and drastically improved the working and living conditions for Canadian seafarers. They also supported other workers in Canada and around the world, wherever their ships docked.

The CSU was destroyed by the activities of the government and employers with the collusion of the Seafarers International Union. The CSU leaders had their reputations destroyed and the members were blacklisted. Many CSU members had worked their entire lives as seafarers, but they were never allowed to sail again due to the blacklist developed and supported by the government and employers. There is an excellent documentary called Betrayed, by Elaine Briere that tells this story very well.

The present struggles of trade unions, and especially transportation sector unions, is eerily similar to the Cold War era. The government has simply substituted the word "terrorist" for "communist", and they are attacking our rights again.

The Canadian government, through Transport Canada, has stated its intention to bring in the Marine Facilities Restricted Area Access Clearance Program, MFRAACP. This program goes far beyond the requirements of the International Labour Organisation's ship and ports security code, which is the internationally agreed level for security. At this time Canada is the only nation, including the United States, that is pushing for this type of program, but we believe that other countries will follow if Canada implements this program.

Personal data collected

MFRAACP requires that in order to continue to work, longshore workers must submit regular identification materials, as well as be issued transport security clearance. They require post-secondary school education, including names and address of institutions attended; residential history for five years preceding an application; employment history for five years preceding an application; travel outside Canada for personal or non-governmental business other than the USA or Mexico for five years preceding application; and information on the applicant's spouse, including common-law spouse, parents, and spouse's parents.

The application for a Transport Security document will also include a signed consent by the applicant, permitting Transport Canada to do security checks; the taking and use of the applicant's fingerprints by electronic or other format for identification purposes; the taking and use of a facial image by electronic format for identification purposes; and the collection and disclosure of information developed as part of the investigative process, including credit card history, immigration records, and law enforcement and criminal records, as well as any and all information that will facilitate an assessment by CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) under the CSIS Act.

Security checks

The second step in this process is the background check stage, conducted to determine if a person may be a risk to marine transportation security. On receipt of a completed application, the following checks will be conducted for the purposes of granting a transport security clearance document: check of Canadian police information centre criminal records; a fingerprint-based criminal records check for convictions and other dispositions; a credit card bureau check; a CSIS indices check; and if necessary, a check of criminal intelligence Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) databases for known criminal associations.

The third step in this process is the assessment and decision-making stage. The decision to grant, deny, suspend, or revoke a transportation security clearance document will be made on behalf of the Minister of Transport. Once an application is submitted to Transport Canada, and the required background checks are conducted, the information is assessed by departmental officials.

Where serious concerns surrounding the applicant's background are raised, notice in the form of a registered letter will be given to the applicant, but that will not state the reason why you were refused. The applicant will be allowed 15 days to make written submissions. Should the applicant for a transportation document be denied, the applicant has legal recourse to file for a judicial review via the Federal Court of Canada, and you are allowed 15 days to file written submissions.

Transport Canada's representatives told a Vancouver audience on September 20 last year that if interesting information turned up in the screening process, this information could and would be shared with foreign intelligence agencies.

Information weighed without common sense and in the absence of a police presence on the ground, allowing the ability to give context or lend accuracy to that information, is at least useless, and in the extreme, dangerous. How will our parents, in-laws and families feel about being part of this database? How do we know what the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service will do with your extended family's information?

What if you have a relative who is of questionable character? Will you be denied your document? Will you lose your employment opportunities? Could one of your relatives get caught in an immigration snare in the United States or other country? Have you ever been declared bankrupt? Or do you live in a nice neighbourhood that CSIS thinks is beyond the means of a tugboat deckhand or dockworker? Could you have been bribed or do you pose a risk of being bribed?

Not about security

What about the right to appeal an unfavourable decision? You can only appeal that the government has not followed their procedures. They do not have to give you a reason for their denial. Therefore you can't appeal on that basis. MFRAACP has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with scapegoating workers.

We have stated from the beginning of this process that the first step to improving security of our docks is to reinstate the Ports Police disbanded in 1997. We opposed that decision at the time, and the federal government still refuses to revisit that decision, even though the government's own Commissions have consistently called for Ports Police as the basis for security on the waterfront.

The policing situation on the waterfront in the Lower Mainland today is outrageous. There are five different municipal police forces in the Lower Mainland area covering our docks, and a number of private security forces.

The revelations in the Air India trial show that the CSIS and the RCMP do not communicate with each other. How can we expect that five difference police organisations and CSIS will share information?

After proper policing, the next most important aspect of security comes from a well-paid and secure workforce, who will look after their worksites and protect them, just as well-served and secure communities will protect their communities. Information flows when people have ownership and security, and stops when people are attacked.

This program will also seriously harm our ability to protect foreign seafarers from being cheated and abused by foreign shipping companies. My local, and our longshore sisters and brothers, have worked hard for over 30 years to protect foreign seafarers, through the International Transport Workers Federation Inspectorate, the ITF.

Up until recently, an ITF inspector had the right to board any foreign vessel and talk to the crew about wages, conditions, and the seaworthiness of their vessel. If there were any problems, we helped to resolve them. The ITF inspectorate in Vancouver has won hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages for seafarers in the past, and also chased away most, if not all, the substandard shipping from our coast.

ITF inspections virtually impossible

Foreign seafarers know to wait to come to Vancouver to file a pay claim, or to point out deficiencies in their vessel, because the ITF inspector and the ILWU will protect them. MFRAACP could destroy all this, because under this program, the ITF inspector has to receive an invitation from the ship's captain or owner to visit the vessel.

This is absurd, and will result in lowering the conditions for foreign seafarers, who are already amongst the most abused workers in the world economy. It will also result in sub-standard shipping returning to our shores, possibly resulting in environmental disaster.

Thousands of people were seriously impacted by the McCarthy-era witch-hunt. Many lost jobs or careers, and were forced to move. Some people committed suicide, and families were broken apart, because family members were pitted against each other. We cannot allow this to happen again.

For these reasons, ILWU is working with all other longshore and maritime unions in this country, and will do whatever is necessary to protect the rights of our members and other workers. We will not be used as pawns in a game to curry favour with the Bush Administration, and we will not be treated as criminals without a trial.

People's Voice, Canada's communist newspaper

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