‘Security’ is a weak excuse to fence off the waterfront

Brian Jones
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These days, whenever you hear the word “security” — especially when it emanates from someone holding official office — it is beneficial to let your internal B.S. detector ring loudly.

After all, “security” is what has led to airline passengers being groped by personnel at airports — actions that, in any other context, would be classified as sexual assault. Passengers who don’t want to be fondled can opt to enter a scanning machine that displays their naked image.

It has been 30 years since I read “Brave New World,” so I can’t remember details, but this sounds like something out of it.

Think of security as a button. Officials push it and expect people to turn off their critical faculties.

Ask questions

When St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe and St. John’s Port Authority CEO Sean Hanrahan say a portion of the city’s harbourfront must be fenced for security, the public’s reaction should not be, “OK,” but “Why?”

In particular, what exactly have St. John’s residents been doing that has made the harbourfront insecure?

Have people been sneaking onto moored ships and taking them for joyrides?

Are terrorists surreptitiously using ships’ radios to contact sleeper cells in other cities?

Do cruise ship passengers get mugged as soon as they set foot on the apron’s asphalt?

It seems to be popular to point out that a fence is necessary because the harbourfront is a working wharf.

But so is every wharf in Newfoundland (and Labrador). (Well, to varying degrees, what with the ongoing cod moratorium. Some now seem to serve merely as props for tourist photos.)

But a wharf, by definition, is for working. And almost every one of them is open and freely accessible.

Think of the last outport you visited (not including Florida). Did you check out the wharf? Probably. Could you walk right out onto it, if you so desired? Probably. Was it dangerous? Probably not, unless you stood at the edge and said something like, “Take a picture of me leaning over the water.”

The thing about staying safe on working wharfs is that you have to stay out of the way of the people who are working. It is fairly straightforward. It is similar to staying safe on a firing range. Stand back. Stay out of the way of the people with guns.

Granted, some people who venture onto a working wharf might lack common sense and will say, “I think I’ll walk out in front of that forklift.”

An argument could thus be made that working wharfs could serve as an evolutionary tool to strengthen the gene pool, but in sensitivity to such people’s loved ones, let’s not be so crass.

Of course, the St. John’s harbourfront is larger than most wharfs you will encounter in outports, working or otherwise. But the concept of accessibility remains valid. If no work is going on, or if only minimal work is going on, people should be free to go on the wharf if they so choose. People who prefer the mall can go there instead.

If the wharf is busy with boats and workers, people should stand back. Some people won’t, naturally. But that’s why orange vests and hardhats were invented: so when someone wearing them instructs others to stand back, they will listen.

Supporters of the fence seem to be under the impression that the affected section of the St. John’s harbourfront is constantly awhirl with activity.

It isn’t.

In fact, you can walk end-to-end along the harbourfront, and it’s like looking at images from a time-lapse camera: nothing happening; nothing happening; nothing happening; there! Something happened.

So, why is a fence being erected? The short answer: cruise ships.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at

The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Port Authority, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Florida

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Recent comments

  • david
    December 14, 2012 - 22:38

    Newfoundlanders wanted a fence to protect them from the stupid moose...so what's so surprising about the oil companies wanting a fence to help protect them from stupid Newfoundlanders?

  • Maurice E. Adams
    December 14, 2012 - 11:07

    Perhaps The Telegram should also look into the federal government's planned closure of Coast Guard's St. John's Marine Traffic Control Centre (St. Johns' Traffic). That centre is equivalent to the closure of the airport control tower at the airport (and I do know something about that as I have previously worked as an air traffic controller at the the St. John's International Airport and as a marine traffic controller (and supervisor) at the the St. John's Marine Traffic Control Centre, as well as the Placentia Bay tanker traffic centre). Is the Marine Traffic Control Centre at Halifax closing? Make no mistake, as well as safety and security, this centre plays a major role in the "efficient" (and therefore cost-effective) movement of traffic in and out of the port of St. John's, and its closure will not enhance its competitiveness and attractiveness visa vi Halifax. Such marine traffic control is seen by the international maritime community as a measure of a port's status and well as its international ranking in other respects. I think that the provincial government, the mayor and the business community would speak up if the control tower at the airport was about to shut down. But I guess it does not, at all, compare to a fence.

  • Virginia Waters
    December 14, 2012 - 09:14

    Clearly BJ wrote this column prior to yesterday's statement from the federal ministry of transport disavowing any knowledge or responsibility with regard to the great fence fiasco. Tenders are being called today for commercial pressure washing companies to help wipe the egg off Hanrahan's face. Asked whether the contract would include the egg on O'Keefe's face, the Port Authority said no - they understood City Council was bringing in specialized equipment from the mainland for that purpose.