In 1983, after a botched abduction attempt ended in a shootout on the lawn of his estate south of Dublin, billionaire Galen Weston had a change of plan: He relocated his family and principal residence to Canada.
These days, however, he might think twice about seeking security in the Great White North. Although fellow billionaire Ken Thomson is a familiar sight ambling alone, except for his two little dogs, through the streets around his Rosedale mansion in Toronto, or picking up his own dry cleaning in a Mercedes with recognizable custom licence plates, he’s becoming a rarity. In 1990, when the daughter of Vancouver billionaire Jimmy Pattison was kidnapped and held for 14 hours, such crimes were almost unheard of in Canada. Times have changed. “All Canadians used to be much more sheltered and trusting about personal security issues, but that’s changed radically”
, says Sean O’Leary of Safetech Alarm Systems. “[Sept.11] was the start of a great public awakening on that score. The amount of violent crime- and the mass-media coverage of it – has heightened the sense of threat.”
A recent example of how real that threat can be is the brazen invasion of the Toronto ravine home of high-profile Bay Street economist Sherry Cooper of BMO Nesbitt Burns. A flashy fixture in media circles, Dr. Cooper and her husband were awakened, restrained and robbed at gunpoint.
The assault prompted her to question whether Canada is becoming “like Brazil, where wealthy people or well-known people need security guards.”
While even former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien encountered a knife-wielding nocturnal intruder during his time at 24 Sussex Drive, Canada has some way to go before it approaches the problems in Brazil. Still, there’s no question that individuals and corporations here are spending much more to feel safe.
That trend is by no means restricted to the extremely wealthy. The latest data from Statistics Canada indicate that even five years ago, private security personnel outnumbered police officers at 84,000 versus 63,000. Hampered by budget cuts, police forces are outsourcing some traditional duties, even as officers are transforming themselves into independent entrepreneurs and security consultants.
Given that many law enforcement professionals can retire with a full pension at 55, they represent a formidable resource for one of the fastest-growing service sectors in North America. On another front, community colleges such as Ontario’s Seneca College now offer a two-year “police foundations” diploma program that has a waiting list. Currently in the throes of rapid, international consolidation, the private security business is steadily improving its professional standards while reducing the costs of its increasingly sophisticated, technology-driven operations. According to Nadi Tadros, who covers the industry for Desjardins Securities, the industry is being transformed by takeovers as well as growth. And private policing is a trend he forecasts will continue to gain momentum. Driving that momentum is a profound psychological shift.
Surrounded by heightened security in airports, at work and other public venues, people are “edgy and aware”
, says Darcy Kernaghan of B.C.-based Securiguard. Security passes and personnel are now commonplace in an intensely competitive knowledge-based economy. Even synagogues, mosques and private schools are beefing up their security in the wake of international incidents. At Shaarei Shomayim Congregation in Toronto, a $50 security fee is levied on all member families.In some upscale neighbourhoods, where crime has been a recurring problem, “the thing now is for residents to get together and chip in $50 a week to cover the cost of a constant mobile patrol”,
says Tom Gould of Shep-Rott K-9 Security. At the same time, as people feel the urge to retreat from the fast-paced world and cocoon, the urge to protect that shelter is unprecedented. Mr. O’Leary says that advanced technology has made it more affordable to remotely monitor activity in and around homes using laptops or even BlackBerry devices. Installing a package that in cludes four security cameras costs about $4,000.
Still, while ha has worked on a fortified “panic room” for at least one home in Toronto’s wealthy Bridle Path neighbourhood, Mr. O’Leary says that demand for these in-home fortresses remains limited to dignitaries from volatile nations, celebrities and the extremely wealthy. The protracted housing boom in Canada is also making private security a bigger part of daily life. Soaring demand has driven up the cost of construction materials and that, along with the ever-present risk of vandalism, has stoked the market for round-the-clock guards on site. At he same time, the growing number of condominiums has increased the need for private security to protect common areas not only for safety, but for insurance and marketing purposes.
Although Canada has relatively few of the gated communities so popular in the United States, it seems we’re well on the way to developing our own version of them in urban and suburban settings. National Post