(This column was published in the North Shore News on Jan. 5, 2000)

Still wondering about Y2K

By Leo Knight

LIKE many of you I spent the tickover from 1999 to the year 2000 on Armageddon Watch instead of sipping bubbles and stumbling over the words of Auld Lang Syne.  


Admittedly it's been many years, from the time when I earned my daily crust as a police officer in fact, since I had to work a New Year's Eve. This year's annual passage was markedly different because of the potential onslaught of the so-called Y2K bug.  


It was also different because of the planned celebrations to mark what was described as the new millennium, albeit a year early. Police forces across the country cancelled all leave and scheduled all available officers to man the portals. In North Vancouver they had three times the normal complement of squad cars patrolling the streets.  


The only incident of note occurred as a result of a clash of culture fuelled by alcohol, when a 14-year-old girl jumped off the overpass on the Upper Levels at Capilano Road.  


It seems she had been at a party with friends. Her mother, a first generation immigrant whose religion does not tolerate alcohol, came to collect her. She discovered the teenagers drinking and threatened to call the police on her friends.  


The young girl got into a screaming match with her mother, torn between the old world with its restrictions and her new world where the code of the teens is "do not rat."  


The unfortunate result was she fled from her mom and threw herself off the overpass, falling 100 feet down to the Capilano River. Evidently the only reason she didn't die was because the trees on the shoreline broke her fall.  


The other point of interest in North Vancouver on New Year's Eve, was what did not occur. The traffic section was out in full force manning the roadblocks and checking hundreds of cars. By 3:30 in the morning they had not arrested one drunk driver or even issued one 24 hour suspension. Not one.  


Vancouver fielded almost half of its entire force, including quick response vans containing tactical officers who could quickly get to pockets of trouble before things got out of hand. In a typical ironic twist, after Vancouver Police announced their Y2K coverage plans and a "no tolerance" policy, cries of outrage emanated from the pointy-headed ones, suggesting the police were being heavy-handed.  


But apart from a few drunks and assorted other idiots who were rapidly contained, there was no real trouble.  


Surrey RCMP had more than half its detachment strength on duty and handled fewer calls than on most Friday nights.  


All across the world as the clocks ticked over the witching hour, the world held its collective breath but nothing happened. And what of it all? The lack of problems had many wags wondering whether it was all over-hyped.  


Midnight came and went around the world with few problems. Monday morning and the opening of the international markets came and went without the predicted chaos. With the bills being tabulated, it appears more than $800 billion was spent around the world to combat Y2K problems. Was it worth it?  


Certainly, as far as the police response, I'd have to say it was. The proactive positioning of the various forces coupled with the "no tolerance" announcement surely sent a clear message.  


But, what of all the money spent on software updates, computer consultants and the rest? In fact it seems a whole new industry was created for the event which leaves one to wonder just what will all those consultants do now. Will there suddenly be thousands of techno-wienies looking for work?  


Professor Anthony Finkelstein, head of software systems engineering at University College, London, seems to think the whole thing has been totally overblown for the basest of reasons -- greed.  


In an interview on Australian radio, Finkelstein said, "The story is of a panic which scrambled out of the control of all the parties, even those that sought to make money from it. I believe greed was an element of it."  


An interesting take.  


Bill Gates, the Microsoft supremo, said it was all worth it. But then he would. According to Gates, "it ended up being a fairly minor issue because people really worked together. If people had ignored the thing then we would be seeing the real impact."  


But, one does have to wonder.  


Whatever the final analysis of the Y2K issue and even if the new millennium does not start for another year, it seems we are witnessing the dawn of a whole new world. The Internet has, in its short time of existence, become poised to rival the significance in history of the industrial revolution. But with that promise also comes the inherent risks.  


Organized crime has already permeated the Internet and new and novel scams are surfacing every day. The chances of being e-mugged are greater than a street mugging. This too is the promise of the new age.  


As a society, we need to capitalize on the good things technology brings and be very vigilant on the bad. We need to understand the threat of organized crime and its ability to use that technology for their nefarious purposes. And, we need to ensure our political leaders don't remain complacent to the dangers poised.  


So much for my post-Y2K thoughts. At least I'll get to party next year, at the real dawn of the new millennium.






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