Vol. 78, No. 1Cover stories

Group of police officers sitting around a table.

Businesses battle terrorism

Program solicits reports of suspicious behaviour

Police agencies involved in Operation Securus meet regularly to discuss how to keep businesses updated on terrorism prevention strategies. Credit: Len vanNieuwenhuizen


In British Columbia, police officers are working alongside business owners and property managers with one goal in mind — preventing terrorism.

The RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Vancouver Police Department are partners in Operation Securus, a terrorism prevention program for B.C's Lower Mainland region, which includes the city of Vancouver.

The program focuses on local businesses, educating them on possible signs of terrorism and encouraging them to report suspicious behavior.

"Securus serves as a conduit between the RCMP and the business community," says Len vanNieuwenhuizen, a counterterrorism information officer with the RCMP. "It's like looking for pieces of a puzzle, those indicators of a terrorist event, because ultimately we want to prevent that."

Securus officials hold regular meetings with business partners across the region to discuss recent terror events around the world and share best practices, preparing them for potential terrorist threats.

"Our goal is not to scare everybody," says Brenda Schellenberg, co-ordinator of Operation Securus. "It's to create awareness — not alarm."

Securus is modelled after Britain's Project Griffin, a crime prevention program that began following the 2005 London bombings. The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) developed it in 2008 to focus on counterterrorism for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

After the games, the RCMP and CSIS recognized the potential of the program and connected with VPD to expand it. Natural Resources Canada, the Delta Police Department and the Abbotsford Police Department have also become participating agencies.

Since Operation Securus officially re-launched in January 2014 as a partnership between VPD, RCMP and CSIS, more than 300 businesses and properties have come on board voluntarily.

Airport safety

Infrastructure workers such as security and transportation personnel are also part of the program.

Sgt. Murray MacAulay is an RCMP officer at the Vancouver International Airport, which is home to more than 26,000 employees. He connects with Securus members on a regular basis.

"Airports are large collecting points. There's a multitude of people coming and going, many internationally," says MacAulay. "It becomes quite easy to tell when something or someone doesn't fit into the environment — if you watch each person that walks past you, you can usually predict what their purpose is at the airport."

Securus members visit the Vancouver airport to give presentations to employees and airline staff. A major focus is check-in agents, who work in high visibility points where they see everybody coming and going at the airport.

"Whether it's the Starbucks clerks or baggage handlers, information is shared," says MacAulay. "An airport is a city unto itself, and it's important that we know our community."

Spotting signs

Terrorists often rely on businesses and organizations to supply them with equipment, resources and services. These day-to-day interactions can be opportunities for businesses to spot unusual behaviour and report it to police.

"Every incident has indicators that can be recognized, reported and analyzed," says Schellenberg. "Sometimes you think something's odd and don't report it, and it might go on to something bigger."

As part of Operation Securus, business members are given priority and receive heightened attention when it comes to reporting and handling suspicious events.

"Businesses may spot abnormalities or behaviours and wonder if they should bother the police," says vanNieuwenhuizen. "We're trying to communicate. We encourage them to report anything they feel seems unusual or out of place."

Evolving tactics

Following the Paris terrorist attacks in November 2015, Securus officials met with those responsible for the security of crowded places, such as malls and other public spaces, for an awareness session on how to recognize and report suspicious incidents.

In the meeting, Securus officials also analyzed new communication methods used by terrorists. In this case, the Paris attackers stopped using email and text, choosing instead to communicate through Instagram and Snapchat, which are harder to trace.

"Terrorism is a very dynamic and evolving field so we need to keep businesses appraised of that," says vanNieuwenhuizen.

As terrorists evolve new ways of threatening the public, police must continue to work proactively to stay one step ahead.

"Securus is a formalization of something we've always done and should be doing on a daily basis — reaching out to make sure we're all safe," says MacAulay.

Date modified: