9/11 security fallout still a headache for truckers

B.C.’s trucking industry is still struggling to recover from the security changes wrought 10 years ago after the Sept. 11 attacks, thousands of kilometres away.

Trucks carry more than six billion tonnes of freight every year in B.C. alone, and much of that makes its way across the international border into the U.S., a trip that is ultimately more costly and often takes longer since 9/11.

Mainland Floral Distributors Ltd. has spent tens of thousands of dollars to install a battery of security devices, such as electronic gates, surveillance cameras, an electronic key system and hundreds of metres of chain-link fencing around its Aldergrove, B.C., facility.

Owner Fred de Boer and all his workers have had criminal background checks and his drivers who deliver plants and flowers to the U.S. have special ID cards intended to get their vehicles across the border more quickly.

Two U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials from Buffalo, N.Y., had to come to check out de Boer’s location and procedures before they'd issue his company a certificate from the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, a Canada-U.S. initiative to ease trade in the post-9/11 era.

"We are responsible for checking to make sure that there is no contraband, as they call it, in those buckets of flowers as they come in," said de Boer.

Every plant the company exports, from hydrangeas to Christmas cactus, must be inspected — even cut flowers.

"They feel that perhaps somebody is able to slip something inside underneath the flowers in the bucket," said de Boer.

Immediately after 9/11, Canadian truckers faced roadblocks at the border that could last eight hours.

Security certifications earned by companies like de Boer’s have helped change that, but the improvements have come at a price nationwide.

Transport Canada estimates the impact of U.S. security measures costs Canadian truckers up to $400 million a year.

But what are people like de Boer getting for their money?

Since 2006, wait times at the border have started to go down, according to University of British Columbia associate professor Garland Chow, who studies freight security and transportation systems.

Trucking operations with security clearance do get through the border faster, providing the companies a competitive advantage, said Chow.

“By having that, they can sell to their customers a greater chance that if there’s a problem, they are going to get through more quickly,” said Chow. “Even right now get through more quickly.”

Fred de Boer's said he’s not convinced his trucks are getting across the border any faster than his non-certified competitors.

But he said he does believe he will be able to keep delivering plants and flowers to the U.S. — even if another security crisis arises.

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