Jane Armstrong, Globe and Mail (Toronto), January 19, 2010
Ali Karim wanted badly to be part of the 2010 Winter Games. When he saw an ad seeking security guards for Olympic venues, he thought he’d be a shoo-in. He had experience as a guard and had cleared previous background checks.
Mr. Karim, 26, and his friend, Usama Ismail, 23, were hired last fall by Contemporary Security Canada, the firm contracted to provide Olympic security staff. The men underwent training and waited to be called up to work.
Instead, both Vancouver-area men were told–by letter–that they hadn’t passed the Mounties’ security clearance, and were no longer employed by the company.
Mr. Karim said he thinks he and Mr. Ismail didn’t make the grade because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds. Both are Muslim and immigrants to Canada.
Mr. Karim moved to Canada from Bangladesh as a teenager. Mr. Ismail is a Somali refugee who also lived in Yemen. Mr. Karim said he has no criminal record and passed background checks when he got his security licence in 2006. Mr. Ismail did not want to speak on the record Thursday.
“I was in tears,” Mr. Karim said. “I was like: ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ”
Mr. Karim decided to take his story public because his background is clear and he wants to know what prompted RCMP to reject his application.
“I’m thinking: ‘What if I am travelling and they put me on a no-fly list and I get stuck someplace in Europe?’ I do have to do this for my personal security.
“I’m a Muslim person,” he continued. “I follow my faith. We just want to resolve: What is the issue? Why I am being targeted?”
However, the Mounties and CSC (the security company) denied that the men were the victims of racial profiling.
“In all areas of our security preparations, we’ve been guided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said RCMP Corporal Jen Allan, a spokeswoman for the Integrated Security Unit, which is providing police security for the Games.
“The Integrated Security Unit does not discriminate on the basis of race or religion or any of the other fundamental rights you’re given as a Canadian.”
Todd Severson, project manager for CSC, said the company hired about 5,000 staff last fall to secure the Olympic venues and screen visitors. They were trained and told they would have to pass RCMP background security checks to be offered full-time jobs.
For privacy reasons, Corp. Allan would not disclose why Mr. Karim failed his background check. Rejected applicants can apply under federal Access to Information legislation to find out why they were rejected and get an answer within a week, she said. Mr. Karim said he has made the request.
Corp. Allan said the RCMP has conducted background checks on more than 120,000 people needing accreditation for the Games. Less than 1 per cent have failed.
She said the bar is fairly highly for Olympic accreditation. Canadian police databases and records from Interpol, federal immigration and border services databanks are checked.
“So it’s far more comprehensive” than an ordinary security check, Corp. Allen said. “We feel that it is an efficient process and will identify those individuals who are a potential threat to the safety and security of the Games.”
Mr. Karim said he wanted to be part of the Olympics because he was proud of his city and province.
“I was really happy the Olympics were coming here.”