BANFF, Alta. - The trucking industry has changed vastly over the past couple of decades, not only with an increased amount of cargo travelling on provincial and national highways, but also with a grow...
BANFF, Alta. – The trucking industry has changed vastly over the past couple of decades, not only with an increased amount of cargo travelling on provincial and national highways, but also with a growing network of contraband and other criminal activity.
Sgt. Rob Ruiters of the RCMP recently spoke to the Alberta Motor Transport Association at its annual convention on this topic. Ruiters is the coordinator of the RCMP Pipeline/Convoy/Jetway program, a program that trains police officers about detecting travelling criminals. At the AMTA convention, Ruiters was talking about training law enforcement agencies on how to stop more trucks – not only for safety checks – but also to become more aware of suspicious activity.
“Most police are not familiar with trucks and most cops don’t stop trucks,” says Ruiters of an unfamiliarity and sometimes intimidation, that he says discourages deeper investigation.
Ruiters has also been promoting Crimestoppers throughout the trucking industry, to build on the same kind of success that has been enjoyed with Neighbourhood Watch. A few Canadian companies have partnered with Crimestoppers and prominently display the tip line on their trucks. Along with this program, Ruiters is advising fleet operators on how to become more aware of suspicious situations, and encouraging them to report these “anomalies” to law enforcement agencies. Greater security will not only benefit the trucking industry, it will also make the entire transportation system, safer for all, he says.
“The transportation industry is a huge vulnerability to national security and organized crime,” he told Truck West in an interview after the convention.
One of those transportation vulnerabilities is the illegal drug industry, which has grown into a billion dollar industry according to Ruiters, who suspects that this “bulk freight” is typically transported by truck, for obvious reasons.
“It’s a lot easier to move a bulk amount in a truck than a little bit
in a car,” he says. “Whether I’m moving legal freight or illegal commodities, obviously I can still fit more in a truck than I can in a car. That being said, if we knew which trucks were doing that, we wouldn’t have a problem.”
Terrorism is another security threat that may be considered an American issue, but not necessarily so, according to Ruiters. He mentioned two Canadian incidents at the convention: the Air India bombing in 1985 which caused 329 deaths, and the capture of Ahmed Ressam. The Algerian terrorist was stopped by a suspicious US Customs agent in late 1999, after he travelled by ferry from Vancouver Island to Port Angeles, Washington. He was found to have 50 kilograms of explosives in his vehicle and was later convicted of a millennium plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport. Ruiters also mentioned the Oklahoma bomber, who transported his explosives in a truck.
“I’m not saying it will happen at all, but it will probably happen by truck,” he says. “We’re certainly vulnerable to that, because we have so many trucks on the highways at any given time. When it gets to the final stages, it’s kind of difficult to stop it.”
There is also the potential for the movement of illegal aliens, and Ruiters noted a recent headline that indicated 41,000 illegal immigrants are unaccounted for since a federal government audit five years ago. While this is often considered a US/Mexico border issue, Ruiters indicates that Canada suffers from its own issue – as well as human trafficking.
“Illegal smuggling and human trafficking is a real concern to the Canadian government,” he says. “Human trafficking is also people brought over here that are sold in the sex trades from third-world countries.”
The transportation security specialist has been encouraging fleet operators to consider security threats related to the trucking industry and to enlighten operations staff and drivers about suspicious activity on the highways, as well as around the yard, within the bodies of the trucks, or amongst the drivers. The trucking industry was, for many years, a very trusting, close group, says Ruiters, but times have changed – and tighter security measures are a necessity with fleet operators and drivers.
“Today, they’ve got to be a little more vigilant, whether it’s on their yards, when they’re driving, (or) when carrying cargo. They have to be more vigilant, that there’s people out there that are doing nothing else but scouting them to take their cargo, or to possibly hijack a driver, or trying to approach the drivers to move illegal commodities.”
By taking a collaborative approach, Ruiters says law enforcement agencies can use their exclusive expertise to become more strategic in combating crime within the trucking industry.
“It’s not the police responsibility, alone,” he adds. “The problem is, we have so many trucks on our roads today and it’s only going to increase. We’re only as secure as the weakest link.”
Ruiters warns about driver vulnerability in an industry that suffers from a driver shortage. He encourages fleet operators and drivers to become aware of the potential for aggressive recruitment, for the movement of illegal goods. He suggests that if employers were to talk to their drivers about recruitment to move contraband, he suspects the response would come as a great surprise.
“I think they’d be shocked to find out that a lot of drivers have had the opportunity,” he says. “They just chose not to.”
The criminal element that is seeking couriers is well aware of which transport companies – and drivers – are travelling on routes that are favoured for moving illegal cargo, such as a the long-haul Vancouver to Toronto run, says Ruiters.
“Criminals will know if you are regularly making these runs, and they will look to try and encourage somebody to move ‘something,’ to make a few extra dollars,” he says. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that they want you to move something illegal.”
While the security analyst realizes that some people are more vulnerable than others, he is unsympathetic to those who make the wrong “choice.” As well, he understands that the trucking industry is a very competitive business, and he has no doubt that if a courier is required for contraband movement, that arrangement will eventually be secured.
“If I have something that I need moved, whether it is legal or illegal, eventually I’ll find somebody to move it. It’s up to all the other people in the industry to police themselves, and report that they hear someone’s trying to offer someone to move something – or they know drivers that are moving something. Because the sooner we can get them off the highway, (the sooner) it makes it safer for everybody else who does work the highway legitimately.”