While an Ontario man who allegedly showed no ID to buy a trailerload of ammonium nitrate fertilizer “posed no apparent threat,” the public threat from such products needs public funding to manage at the retail level, according to a national dealers’ group.
Two days after a police search located the man in question, the Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers (CAAR) has restated its previous call for federal funding to help upgrade physical security at ag retail sites, to manage the risk of “malicious diversion.”
“Regardless of the outcome, this incident should remind us to remain vigilant knowing that potential threats do exist and that terrorists will persist in trying to acquire what are normally benign agricultural products and misuse them for destructive purposes,” CAAR CEO David MacKay said in a release.
The “incident” involved the May 26 cash purchase of a large amount of ammonium nitrate from the Vineland Growers Co-op outlet at Jordan Station, about 30 km northwest of Niagara Falls.
According to RCMP on Wednesday (June 9), the retailer believed the buyer was buying and transporting the fertilizer on behalf of a known regular customer, but “this was subsequently found not to be the case.”
No identification nor vehicle plate number were obtained at point of sale from the man, RCMP said.
The man contacted the province’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (O-INSET) later Wednesday afternoon, RCMP said, after his description and sketches had been broadcast through regional and national media.
Media interest in the case had been spurred by its timing, just days ahead of international dignitaries and world leaders arriving in southern Ontario for separate meetings of the G-8 and G-20.
The fertilizer has since been recovered from two addresses in Toronto, and police have found “no suspicious circumstances” in its purchase. “It is expected that there will be no charges,” Niagara Regional Police said Wednesday.
O-INSET is made up of representatives of the RCMP, federal agencies such as the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and provincial and municipal police services, with a mandate to investigate “all national security threats.”
“The threat has not diminished and therefore we need to physically secure and protect all of the inputs that are critical to crop production in Canada,” CAAR’s MacKay said Friday. “Notwithstanding the threat to the Canadian public, farmers and retailers can ill afford to lose these products to reactive over-regulation following a terrorist incident.”
Among the most infamous fertilizer-bomb attacks was the destruction of a U.S. federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, in which domestic attackers detonated a combination of ammonium nitrate and motor fuel and killed over 150 people.
Ammonium nitrate’s known use in improvised explosives had already led the federal government in June 2008 to add new regulations on the sale of the product. Anyone who sells ammonium nitrate must now be registered with the explosives regulatory division of Natural Resources Canada. The product’s resale is also prohibited.
Sellers are also required to comply with security measures for storage, record-keeping and customer identification, the government said at the time.
“The regulations are a very effective front-line deterrent against fraudulent purchases but unfortunately they do not address the necessary precautions to physically secure all crop inputs that farmers need in a single comprehensive plan,” MacKay said.
“Ammonium nitrate is not the only high-risk agricultural product that must be protected and common sense dictates that a terrorist won’t always walk through the front door to buy it — they instead will prefer to steal it so we must be prepared for that tactic.”
Winnipeg-based CAAR noted Friday it has proposed an “integrated crop input security protocol” that would split the cost of upgrading security infrastructure at 1,500 ag retail sites across Canada, at a total cost of about $100 million.
This would include installation of perimeter fencing, surveillance and alarm devices, lighting, locks and software, plus training for staff in various security techniques, CAAR said.
“An effective security strategy must cover all aspects of vulnerability,” MacKay said. “It makes no sense to lock the proverbial doors only to leave the windows open.”
CAAR said the federal government has yet to respond to its cost-sharing proposal, “despite two Parliamentary recommendations, an existing precedent for a program that funded identical security at Canadian port facilities, as well as U.S. legislation that currently offers a tax credit to American agri-retailers that upgrade security at their sites.”
The RCMP’s last major investigation over fertilizer took place shortly before the opening of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, when two tonnes of ammonium nitrate allegedly went unaccounted for at a West Coast bulk chemical terminal.
An “exhaustive” police audit followed at offices in B.C., Edmonton, Calgary and Salt Lake City and found the discrepancy in fertilizer stocks at Kinder Morgan’s facilities existed only on paper.