Asia Pacific Organised Crime: The Need for a New Maritime Policing Paradigm

Posted By August 26, 2007 No Comments

To Canadians generally, images of the Pacific Islands are associated with warm pleasant sea breezes flowing over blue seas onto white sandy beaches surrounded by palm trees in far away island communities with a year round pleasant tropical climate. Canadians who travel to Australia or New Zealand would be acquainted with the location through stop offs at the island of Fiji. The seemingly never ending flight emphasis the isolation of the Islands, suggesting that there is not much crime occurring there as we know it to be in the more developed world.

The conventional image of the Pacific Islands was transformed during a public seminar at the Liu Centre of International Relations, University of British Columbia. Dr. Andreas Schloenhardt, an international authority on Transnational Organised Crime, from the University of Queensland, Australia, described how organised crime “industries” in the region has global implication. Focussing on narcotrafficking (drugs), trafficking in persons (sex) and firearms trafficking (guns), Dr. Schloenhardt outlined the importance of international police collaborating in the management of globalized crime.

South Pacific Islands from a policing perspective

The Pacific Ocean’s many island nations with only a few thousand citizens and no major industries are limited in preventing their economies from becoming staging grounds for transnational crime syndicates. Dr. Schloenhardt noted that governments in the region tend to be more lenient, less careful and in some instances simply “turned a blind eye” towards the influx of people and foreign investment. The Island nation of Vanuatu, for example, with a population of about 70,000 has around 400 banks. These institutions make the transfer of funds from dubious sources into the world wide banking establishment all the more easier. Money laundering is the most important phenomenon associated with organized crime in the South Pacific Islands. A Google search reveals that many of Canada’s charter banks have offices on the South Pacific island of Vanuatu.

Narcotrafficking (drugs) – international dealings and intrigue

After describing the lawless nature of Pacific Islands, Schloenhardt outlined how in 2000 Fijian police seized 357 kg of heroine bound for Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In 2002 authorities foiled an apparent attempt to import up to 12 tonnes of the precursor chemicals ephedrine, from India and pseudoephedrine, from China into Papua New Guinea (PNG); the International Narcotics Board expressed concern over the size and purpose for such pharmaceuticals entering PNG. The most significant seizure of amphetamine type stimulants was made in June 2004 by Fijian authorities where 5 kg of crystal methamphetamine and 1000 kg of precursor chemicals were found. This seizure was described as one of the world’s largest clandestine labs ever detected, having a potential to produce 500 kg of crystal methamphetamine a week. Local authorities suggested that the precursors use to make the drugs had come from Australia and New Zealand and the end products were destined for markets in Australia, North America and Europe. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) acknowledges that the isolation of the Pacific islands facilitates drug trafficking. Geographically they connect some of the world’s largest drug producers with the largest drug markets. Pacific transit stopovers can enable traffickers to camouflage the country of origin.

Trafficking in Persons (sex) – an anecdotal perspective

Noting that human trafficking is not very well documented in the Pacific Islands Schloenhardt described isolated reports about trafficking in persons, especially women to and from the Pacific Islands. In 2003 one of the largest cases of “modern day slavery” was uncovered in American Samoa where nearly 250 persons from China and Vietnam were found working in slavery-like conditions in a garment factory. The factory owner was later sentenced in the US to 40 years imprisonment. In 2004 Micronesia discovered a number of Thai nationals who initially arrived as waitresses were found working as prostitutes. In 2005 a case emerged in Palau in which a Chinese national was prosecuted for recruiting Chinese women as waitresses and forcing them to work as prostitutes. Filipino women are known to have been trafficked in Palau. UNODC has expressed concern about Fiji becoming a new destination for sex tourism, although there is no evidence of any organized sex industry in the region.

Fire Arms Trafficking (guns) – a domestic business

In the absence of a well resourced law enforcement capability within and among the Islands, the demand for guns, particularly small arm guns is increasing in the region. Legislative requirements to meet obligation of international conventions require substantial financial, material and human resources. Given the colonial history of the region the local sentiment is to maintain full governance rather than support the internationalization of criminal law and justice systems.

Lessons for Canada

When asked where he saw the lessons for Canada Dr. Schloenhardt said “Some ports are on point of debarkation for Canada. Fiji would be the main one but also some of the US territories are often refuelling point for vessels that may be coming to Canada. Also there are drugs coming out of Canada. Vessels destined for New Zealand and Australia have to go through the Pacific Islands to make their way sometimes just using their waterways but also having to refuel. There is no evidence of the trafficking in persons into Vancouver from the Pacific Islands; which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen from other Asian countries. Firearms are primarily an importing venture among the Islands. Money laundering is a concern of all countries with established banking systems that have branch offices in such locations.”

Police Force &/or Military Force? – An Australian perspective

Discussing the relationship between law enforcement and the military in the context or maritime law enforcement Schloenhardt said, “Not sure we can separate the two. This is a form of non-security issues beyond the parameters of national defence and the military. Law enforcement certainly has a lot to do with investigations, searches, arrests and prosecutions. It has a wider impact as far as governance and corruption are concerned with the bigger issue of border security and that brings us back into the defence portfolio. If we are thinking in terms of one or the other we are really prohibited in our approach, we need to look at this in a broader perspective involving different agencies and figure how they can work together. We really need to challenge that traditional separation between Law Enforcement and Military.”

Describing how Australia is organized to integrate such services he said, “Police have been integrated in a number of ways in that we have at the most basic level liaison officers posted with our high commissions and embassies throughout the region. They work, partly as diplomats and partly as contact points for the local police. Further we have created in a number of countries trans-national crimes units which are part of the local police but sometimes we have officers seconded to them, or they are trained, or the equipment is provided by Australian authorities. We take a key role in the pacific training. We try to run them as regional initiatives so that we have a diversity of opinion. Australia trains local police; we don’t have any police carrying out policing duties in the region.” He added that “Transnational crime investigation is critical for example most drugs related arrests are determined through intelligence and investigation, very few things are found through chance or random searches because they don’t have the capacity to succeed. It is often the intelligence received from other countries with vessels being monitored in other countries and drugs are being left to see who acquires them. Big seizures have long case histories and extensive intelligence investigation behind them.”

Cultural Diversity – perceptions, myths and values

Discussing the cultural adjustments required within the region towards law enforcement and Justice Dr. Schloenhardt said, “Understanding and appreciating cultural diversity is critical in order to constitute law enforcement. The Pacific Islands are very regionally diverse, the Polynesian culture is based on more governance structures; Melanesia is more tribal in its approach with historically a village based administration. Each has its own beliefs and custom. What may be considered as substance abuse could be part of a cultural ceremony, corruption and nepotism are treated differently in such societies there are various understandings of the issues in ownership and use of firearms. The establishment of any trans-border law enforcement relationships has to take into account these different perceptions, myths and values.”

Canadian Reflections

Listening to Dr. Schloenhardt’s presentation it was difficult to escape the realization that there are many bad people / subversive elements outside of Canada that would do harm to Canadian values and property given the opportunity. On reflection it is realized that, like the more law abiding forms of business, organized crime is adapting to the challenges and opportunities of globalization. Isolated communities in the Pacific Islands afford excellent staging grounds for embarking on profitable criminal ventures in richer countries like Canada. The trends facilitating globalized crime suggest that there is a need for Canada to adopt a new policing paradigm, particularly around maritime security.

Dr. Schloenhardt said that the policing functions of investigations, searches, arrests and prosecutions in the context of non-security issues beyond the border enters into the parameters of national defence and the military. He suggests that the wider impact of criminal acts on governance and corruption relates to the defence portfolio. He concludes that in terms of transnational criminal activities we really need to challenge the traditional separation of law enforcement and the application of military force.

As Dr. Schloenhardt reported persons trained in law enforcement by municipal, provincial as well as RCMP could serve as diplomats, being assigned to Canadian embassies or consulates in sensitive parts of the world. Such a tour of duty would provide an appreciation of the cultural nuances necessary in order combats globally organized crime on the streets of Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or other Canadian Cities. The application of such insights locally would serve to mitigate on the beat best practices thereby reducing offshore threats to Canadian values and property. [1]

Traditionally, law enforcement (policing), is seen as a domestic function. In Canada such matters are administered and implemented largely through the RCMP, possibly with the collaboration of provincial and municipal police forces. The relationship between the Canadian Naval Forces and the RCMP acknowledges that while the navy defends the sovereignty of the country, the RCMP is called up to enforce all Canadian laws. The enforcement of laws involving illegal fishing practices are applied by Department of Fisheries and Ocean armed Fisheries Officers. Naval personnel can be contracted by DFO to serve as Fisheries Officers if the need arises.

If we accept the premise by Schloenhardt that we need to consider some integration of law enforcement and military then new approaches are called for in policing Canada’s maritime border. This aspect of Canadian maritime law enforcement as recently been challenged in the Auditor General of Canada’s 2006 audit, “Managing the Coast Guard Fleet and Marine Navigational Services” and the Standing Senate Committee on “National Security and Defence,” March 2007. Both documents highlight concerns about how Canada manages the sovereignty of its maritime domain. [2]

The fight against global organized crime was compared with international collaboration around the policing of illegal unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing on the high seas. Canada plays a lead role in this area of maritime crime. Fishing within a country’s 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is managed by the coastal state. Beyond 200 NM fishing is managed by flag states who are encouraged to form regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). Any vessels coming into Canada’s EEZ are subject to Canadian criminal code. This model may also serve as a structure for establishing an infrastructure to combat transnational crime. [3]

This review has focussed on maritime transnational maritime crime. It has not addressed the challenges of terrorist like subversive elements threatening Canadian values and property through its maritime ports and coast line. Neither has there been any discussion about the need for Canada to establish its maritime sovereignty in the North West Passage. The status quo approach of guarding the coast line may be more of a 20th Century maritime practices. Defining a new kind of relationship between military force and police force in the 21st Century requires a new policing paradigm that serves to protecting Canada’s maritime domain beyond its coastline. With recent initiatives taken by Russia to claim the North Pole such a strategy would call for resources that can assure Canadians that their sovereignty is being protected above on and below the water as well as on and below their seafloor within the two hundred mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around Canada’s coastlines.