Spreading paranoia on the buses - Metro US

Spreading paranoia on the buses

While restrictions on carry-on bags, hastily instituted after last Christmas’ underwear bomber scare, have been eased for air travellers, Transport Canada seems to be intent on spreading alarmism here on the ground.

The current OC Transpo/STO security campaign, funded by the federal Transit-Secure Contribution Program, has as its slogan, “See something? Say something!” and encourages bus riders to keep an eye out for the unusual and report it to a dedicated hotline.

Some of the advice offered is sensible enough —warning passengers to be wary of suspicious packages lying around, for example.

But the wide-ranging orders to observe and report anything out of the ordinary seem a little impractical.

Some of the suggestions also border on the paranoid, like being on the lookout for “an individual taking photos or pictures in a location that has no particular interest, drawing maps or sketches, taking notes or wandering in the same location for an unusually long time.”

The directive seems to go back to Transpo’s obsession with cameras. Last year, even before this latest program of federally funded hyper-vigilance began, students were rousted by Transpo security for taking pictures of a bus station for a school project.

It seemed a pretty clear overreaction. These public facilities are, after all, hardly a state secret. Anyone interested in seeing pictures can simply look at OC Transpo’s website, where detailed views of major stations, photographed from above, are freely available. (Just don’t tell the terrorists.)

Transpo, though, seems institutionally allergic to the presence of cameras apart from its own security monitors.

As Metro reported last week, driver Allen Roulston was fired in March after complaining of Transpo employees buying and selling pirated materials in the drivers’ lounge at headquarters.

As part of his training, he had been instructed to report any illegal activity on OC Transpo property. He documented his complaint with photos and videos and he alleges he got the boot for his troubles.

Meanwhile, as OC Transpo warns us to be on the lookout for shadowy terrorist operatives, three passengers were mugged near major bus stations last month.

– Steve Collins lives, writes and walks in Ottawa; ottawaletters@metronews.ca

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