Q&A: Unarmed and Dangerous

Takis H Sifonas is the chairman of the Canadian Society for Industrial Security. He is also the assistant director of security services for one of the largest hotels in Canada. His hotel-which has 1,040 rooms and 36 convention halls-sits in a high-risk location directly above Montreal's famous Underground City and the Central Train Station. We talked to Sifonas recently about firearms, first responders and terrorists.

CSO: How would you describe the current state of physical security?
Takis H Sifonas:
I think that technology is slowly being used in place of manpower, and physical security is rapidly becoming overlooked.

What has been the impact of recent firearms legislation in Canada?
No corporate security specialist, regardless of their background or training, may possess a license to carry a firearm in Canada.

In December of 1989, 14 women were massacred at the Université de Montréal by a maniacal gunman who entered a building. Then in August of 1992, a disgruntled professor at Concordia University used a pistol to murder four people and wound even more. Our government responded by enacting tighter legislation on handguns, for security personnel as well as individuals. The security personnel in these establishments were the first to respond to these incidents. The problem was that they were unable to deal with the situations because they were unarmed, and they had to wait until police entered the premises to intervene. By then, of course, it was too late to salvage the situation, and lives were inevitably lost.

How has this legislation affected Canada's first responders?
Onsite security personnel are the first responders to crimes on their property, with an average response time of approximately 15 to 30 seconds. They can usually respond to gun calls long before a shot is fired. The problem is, they can no longer prevent that shot from being fired. We always ask ourselves what could have been done to prevent the firearm from getting into the criminal's hands, but we respond by removing access to firearms by everyone but the perpetrator. Trained security professionals, responsible for thousands of lives each day, must deal with these situations. They are forced to rely on the hope that police response time will be improved and technology will somehow prevent a situation from escalating to the point where a firearm is used against civilians.

So are you an advocate of arming security personnel?
I am not a gun advocate; I am a security advocate. I am advocating the prudent use of firearms by qualified professionals (and not just any citizen) in the performance of their lawful duties under the auspices of their lawful institutions.

What can be done to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons?
The truth is, the criminal or terrorist element will always find a way to possess weapons. And regardless how proficient we get at detection, there will always be those who will slip through the cracks. Security professionals have the training and experience to prevent all stages of crime, provided they are properly equipped.

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