The union representing armed guards who protect the Senate has filed a grievance over the hiring of a private security team in the Red Chamber.
Members of the private security company suddenly disappeared early Tuesday afternoon, a day after The Globe and Mail reported that a Conservative Senator was questioning how the company was hired and whether Senate contracting rules were followed.
Observers in the Senate said the private security staff were present Tuesday morning but then left.
The Globe reported this week that a private security company – Arlington Group Inc. – received a sole-source contract worth at least $70,000 to work in the new temporary Senate chambers southeast of Parliament Hill.
Senate spokesperson Alison Korn said the staff “do not play a security role,” and described the positions as ushers who help people navigate through the new premises. Ms. Korn later said the company was hired without a public tender by the Senate’s Corporate Security Directorate after the office had reached out to “key private-sector security suppliers.”
Senate guard Brian Faust, president of the union representing Senate protective service employees, said officers dispute the claim that the new hires are ushers who are not involved in security.
“Let’s be honest here. They’re a security firm,” he said. “They’re not just students standing there giving directions. They’re actually physically monitoring where people go.”
After a shooter gained access to Parliament Hill in 2014, a new Parliamentary Protective Service (PPS) was created that merged the House of Commons and Senate security teams under the oversight of the RCMP.
Proponents of the merger said it would improve security by having a single team working together.
Mr. Faust said inserting a new private entity into the mix goes against the purpose of the merger.
“The unification or the creation of PPS was to eliminate the different levels of security on the Hill, and this is just adding another level, which could lead to confusion at some point if there ever is an emergency,” he said.
He said the union filed a grievance earlier this year shortly after the private security team appeared on the scene to perform roles that would normally be done by the PPS.
Ms. Korn, the Senate spokesperson, was asked Tuesday to explain why the private security officers left the Senate, whether Senate rules require such contracts to be put to public tender and to respond to the concerns of the PPS union.
“For the moment, we have no comment on the matter,” she said in an e-mail Tuesday evening.
The Senate and the House of Commons are in temporary chambers for at least a decade during renovations to Parliament’s Centre Block. The Senate now sits in a former train station that was extensively renovated before the Senate moved in this year.
Conservative Senator Leo Housakos, a former chair of the internal economy committee that oversees Senate spending, said his understanding of the rules is that a contract of that size should have been put to public tender. He also said members of the committee should have been notified of the plan, but were not.
Mr. Housakos said that if the security staff were truly needed, he questions why they would suddenly disappear after becoming the subject of public attention.
“Someone needs to be accountable and answer for all this," he said.
Mr. Housakos said he finds the lack of transparency surrounding the contract “disturbing” and challenged the official explanation that the Senate needed to hire ushers.
“We would not be spending $70,000 of taxpayers’ money to have people opening and closing doors,” he said. “Senators are more than capable of opening and closing their own doors.”