October 10, 2001
As darkness descends on the city, canine patrols comb the perimeter of the CN Tower, sniffing for trouble. Argos fans pressing into the SkyDome expect to have their bags checked. Workers in Toronto’s financial district must carry identification at all times to clear security.
While cities across the United States ratcheted up security, fearing retaliation for air strikes in Afghanistan, security forces in Toronto have been holding steady since they were put on heightened alert Sept. 11.
Longer line-ups at the airport, hassles at the border and more guards in downtown offices are a reminder of how life has changed.
Security at possible local terrorist targets – including airports, bus stations, nuclear reactors and tourist attractions – remains largely unchanged across the GTA since Sunday’s U.S.-British attacks on Afghanistan.
“We haven’t made any changes since Sept. 11. The things we had put into place remain in place,” said Mike Walker, chief security officer for the Toronto Transit Commission.
“There’s been stepped up security since the World Trade Center attacks. No further directives have come to us from Transport Canada,” said Peter Gregg, spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority.
Everyone remains tight-lipped about the types of precautions being taken. “We don’t discuss security measures here, period,” said an official at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto.
Without knowing details of the safety measures in place, some observers are concerned that safety isn’t being taken seriously enough.
Tom Adams, executive director of Energy Probe and a former director of the Independent Electricity Market Operator (IMO), says nuclear stations are open to the kind of suicide attacks that hit New York and the Pentagon last month, suggesting air-defence systems may be required to properly protect them.
Adams cites one of two control rooms, capable of running Ontario’s electricity grid, located along the flight path of aircraft rumbling in and out of Pearson International Airport.
Less than two kilometres from the airport, the facility is run by the IMO, which is charged with keeping the province’s electrical grid up and running.
The IMO’s main day-to-day main control facility, inherited from Ontario Hydro, is in Clarkson. The airport facility was set up by the IMO as a backup.
“We never walked ourselves through the logical implications of our vulnerabilities,” he said.
Kevin Dove, a spokesperson for the IMO, said the agency is examining all aspects of security, but wouldn’t comment directly on the airport control room.
Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino says if the city were targeted by terrorists, Toronto would find it difficult to muster an emergency response similar to the one that took place after the attacks in New York.
Tools like a helicopter and more active intelligence squads cost money, but they’re the kind of things the police force would need to combat terrorism in Toronto, the chief said.
“We would be hard pressed to come up with the kind of services and responses to deal with that,” Fantino said in a wide-ranging interview with the Star‘s editorial board yesterday morning.
“We have to take the context of New York City and prepare for that.”
Fantino, along with Fire Chief Alan Speed and ambulance general manager Ron Kelusky, will meet with Premier Mike Harris and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to discuss the state of Toronto’s emergency plans.
Bracing for possible terrorist attacks has forced some agencies to draw up new operations plans, but the TTC has been preparing for such attacks on the subway for more than two years, a senior TTC official says.
No specific threats have been made against the system, but the TTC has recruited U.S. biological and chemical weapons experts to work with its staff and has invited elite Canadian military and security forces to train in its subway tunnels, deputy general manager Lynn Hilborn says.
Since February, 1999, Hilborn says, TTC staff have, among other things, attended NATO, CIA, FBI and U.S. Secret Service anti-terrorism seminars; brought groups of Canadian commandos from the elite Joint Task Force 2 to train in the subway system; organized a three-day training session this spring with U.S. transportation department experts in nuclear, chemical and biological terrorism for TTC security staff and Toronto police, fire and ambulance personnel.
Hilborn says that since Sept. 11 the TTC has also developed a three-level alert system that would trigger progressively more stringent protections.