The recently inaugurated Vancouver council will decide at one of its first meetings next week whether it should approve a staff recommendation to pay $29.9 million over the next five years to a company for security services at city facilities.
The staff recommendation goes before council Nov. 16 and asks council to award a five-year contract to Paladin Security Group Ltd. for security guards and “security systems” to provide “exceptional safety and security to citizens, employees and users of city facilities and services.”
In addition, a separate staff recommendation calls for Securiguard Services Ltd. to be awarded a five-year $6.7 million contract for security at the Vancouver Public Library. In both cases, council is given the option to extend the term of the contracts by two years.
What’s not included in the staff report are two other contracts for security at civic theatres and locksmith services. Because both contracts were worth less than $2 million each, they did not have to go before council for approval.
The report doesn’t say which security firm currently holds the contract for all facilities or whether it is worth more or less than the proposed $29.9 million over the next five years.
Coun. Pete Fry said Thursday he still has to review the report before deciding whether he will support staff’s recommendations, particularly the $29.9 million contract.
“I recognize that we do have pretty significant security needs across our various kinds of properties and institutions, and we’re generally well served by our security,” Fry said. “So it likely is the cost of doing business, but it does sound like a big number.”
Council gets police escort
The report was posted to the city’s website the same week that Mayor Ken Sim and several city councillors had to be escorted by police into city hall Monday to avoid protesters. Security teams were involved in the lockdown of the building, with only journalists given access to the council chamber for the new council’s inaugural meeting.
The increased security presence at city hall has been noticeable in recent years, particularly on days when council is in session. That presence can be traced back to June 2017 when housing activists stormed the council chamber.
The intrusion caused then-mayor Gregor Robertson and councillors to flee the chamber. Jean Swanson took over the mayor’s chair and led a mock council meeting. Swanson would later get elected to council in 2018 as a member of COPE.
“That’s when it started,” Swanson told the Vancouver Courier in a 2019 interview.
At the time, the city said the budget for security personnel at city hall cost just under $700,000, some of it spent on increased security on council days. Elevators and doors to the council chamber lobby now require a security fob or key to access.
“Prior to the new procedures put in place, there had been increased acts of aggression and disruption which created anxiety for councillors, city staff and the public, and also interfered with the democratic process,” Greg Conlan, the associate director of the city's protective services, told the Courier at the time.
“Since the new procedures have been implemented, there have been no significant incidents of concern.”
Broken glass door
Fry pointed out an incident earlier this year where a security guard badly injured his hand after protesters broke a glass door at the north entrance to city hall.
“He was trying to hold the door back when it shattered,” he said. “I often worry about their safety when they're dealing with some of these situations. So if they see a need for a little bit more security enhancement, then I support that.”
In May 2018, about 50 housing activists blocked all entrances to city hall to force an entire shutdown of the building on a day that included disruptions at two other city buildings and saw city council hold a brief meeting in a community garden.