Tuesday, 8 March 2005

Canadians observe Israeli security

Tuesday, March 8, 2005 - Page A12


BET HORON POLICE TRAINING BASE, WEST BANK -- Commissioner Gwenneth Boniface of the Ontario Provincial Police looked on as a battered white Peugot appeared from the hills near the West Bank city of Ramallah. Seconds later, two Israeli police jeeps screeched to a halt, blocking it front and rear.

"Put your hands out of the window and throw the keys on the roof," the police ordered through a loudspeaker as armed officers took up their positions, their M16 rifles trained on the vehicle.

One by one, the suspects were ordered out of the car on the side nearest the police and told to lift their shirts, turn around and lie on the ground. The second suspect was wearing a zip-up jacket. He removed it, revealing a suicide bomb belt strapped around his torso. Suddenly, he produced a pistol and began running toward the Israeli jeep, firing as he ran. The police opened fire, cutting him down.

Fortunately, it was just a demonstration for the benefit of Commissioner Boniface and 20 colleagues from her police force and the Ontario government.

The Canadians were spending the day as observers at Beit Horon, a training base for the Israeli border police, but earlier in the day, they got closer than they might have liked to the real thing. They were visiting the emergency room at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital when two ambulances screamed to a halt outside and medics rushed in, carrying two border policemen wounded by a Palestinian sniper in the West Bank city of Hebron.

It was the last day of a week-long Israeli visit by the Canadian law-enforcement officials, headed by Ontario Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Monte Kwinter and former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, who has been appointed as the province's new head of emergency response. The trip took them from the Golan Heights to the Dead Sea, and from an Israeli correctional facility to a briefing with the Palestinian security adviser to the Middle Eastern peace negotiations.

Their Israeli hosts, whose battle gear and assault rifles lay thrown over chairs in their office, seconds away in case needed for action, initially thought the Canadians looked too smart to be serious in their full-dress royal blue uniforms, medals and shiny-peaked caps. But the visitors said they learned some useful lessons.

Commissioner Boniface, the most senior commander on the trip, said she hopes Toronto will never witness scenes such as the ones acted out at Beit Horon, but she noted that behind the scenes there is "a paramilitary structure in policing in Canada," with special units similar to the Israeli fighters.

"The type of skill and specialization would not be on a par, but in the same range," she said. "What is important is to understand what is happening around the world so when you watch the operation of your own people, you watch it in that context."

Mr. Fantino said he was most impressed by the "seamless" co-ordination of Israeli security and emergency services at the scenes of attacks, and said he hopes the same can be achieved in Canada. Everything has changed since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he said, and Canadians need to be prepared for the worst.

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