(This column was published in the North Shore News on Sept. 15, 1999)


Migrant info gone missing in action

By Leo Knight

THE situation with the migrant "boat people" is fast becoming a mockery.  


Every aspect seems destined to make this country a global laughing stock.  


The prime minister is in denial.  


The Mounties are raiding already undermanned detachments to act as custodial guards for God knows how long.  


Their marginal budget is being kicked all over the place with the cost of their operation let alone the 15 or so officers assigned to conduct the investigation into the matter.  


The armed forces are trying to protect our coastal sovereignty with equipment being held together with scotch tape and baling wire.  


The new immigration minister doesn't seem to know whether she's drilled, punched or bored and clearly she's already been finger-tamed by the civil servants who really run her office.  


We're building a jail in the heart of a quiet Esquimalt neighbourhood to house the migrants and the locals are getting pretty upset over all of the noise and interruption in their lives.  


The migrants themselves have to be handcuffed whenever they're moved because they're being housed in essentially a naval base not a secure containment facility.  


Why, when we have a perfectly good facility which, until August, housed the Vancouver Police Department jail? But then the optics of that would probably upset the politically correct.  


Then there's the whole question of information being provided to the public.  


As the arrivals by rusty tubs have become more frequent, the attention given by the media has become much more intense.  


Even the Toronto media have noticed!  


Because the trafficking in human cargo is an enterprise of organized crime and in this case, Asian organized crime, one of the principal spokesmen for the police has been Sgt. Jim Fisher, a Vancouver police officer currently assigned to Criminal Intelligence Services Canada (CISC).  


Fisher is the recognized expert on Asian gangs, triads and other elements of Asian organized crime.  


It's part of his job description in his position to educate, comment and inform the media.  


As the story has grown, Fisher has been quoted in just about every newspaper, wire service and newscast around North America.  


RCMP spokesman Corporal Grant Learned has been referring all media requests to Fisher simply because he has the specific knowledge and Learned doesn't.  


I was very surprised when on Monday I spoke to Fisher on the phone and when I asked for an update on the migrant situation I was told he "couldn't go there," and was referred to Supt. Ray Lang, the officer in charge of the Immigration and Passport section at RCMP headquarters.


Now, we go back a long time, before he was a cop when he refereed junior hockey for a living, and I couldn't imagine that type of reaction from him unless he'd been ordered not to talk.  


Was this true, I asked, had he been gagged?  


"You know I can't say that," he replied.  


And thus ended the conversation.  


So I did a little digging with some other old friends and determined that he had, in fact, been gagged by the RCMP who administer CISC.  


It has been suggested by some pointy-headed one that Fisher had deliberately or inadvertently given out "holdback" information.  


(Information known only to the investigators and not for public consumption.)  


Now this sort of allegation can destroy a professional officer's reputation and career.  


According to the people I spoke to, Fisher was not privy to "holdback" information in this investigation and has only been providing the background on Asian gangs and how the people smugglers operate.  


So, what gives?  


I contacted Grant Learned for the RCMP's official position.  


He essentially confirmed the gag order saying, "I'm told he is not now a resource available to us in the business of public information."  


I asked if this made things more difficult given the widespread media interest.  


Learned replied, "I don't have the background of knowledge Jim has.  


"He is the quintessential expert."  


This is nuts.  


Canadians are clamouring for information on this issue.  


Good Lord, all one needs to do is dial around the radio talk shows to know how the situation has struck a chord with everyone regardless of political stripe or ethnicity.  


The single person in the policing community who can speak knowledgeably about the subject has been gagged and Lang has been designated the RCMP's spokesman on the migrant issue.  


Lang's version of media relations and informing the public is rather old-school apparently.  


When contacted for comment by Province reporter Fabian Dawson, who broke the corruption in our Hong Kong consulate story, Lang was a virtual fountain of information.  


"I can neither confirm nor deny" was his mantra.  


What this is really about is anyone's guess.  


I'm betting on a little inter-agency peeing contest.


Something like a petulant child whining about not getting any attention.  


I'm told there have been some very high level meetings between the RCMP, Immigration Canada Enforcement and CISC over this issue.  


Maybe they'll learn to play nice in the sandbox while they are it.






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