Get Me Security

Camil Dubuc didn’t set out to command a small private army. Nor did he mean to enter a public controversy. When he hatched the Downtown Ambassadors project back in 2000, he was just following the entrepreneurial instincts he’d had since he was a kid in suburban Montreal. “I’ve been in business since 17,” says the clean-cut, solidly built 48-year-old, in the boardroom of Genesis Security, a glass-enclosed space near the Burrard Bridge. “Dry-cleaner business, fashion shows—so many different businesses. At 13, I had a company for disco, like DJ.” When a nightclub manager offered Dubuc a spot as a bouncer (he has black belts in jujitsu and tae kwon do), he found himself entering the world of dress codes and velvet ropes.

When Dubuc moved to Vancouver, in 1993, he signed on with a local security firm; he started Genesis in 1998 with a single client (a Burnaby nightclub) and six doormen. “I never expected to be in security,” he says. “My dad taught me customer service. And what I found out is this is all about customer service. It’s not about being a goon—I hate that idea.”

Dubuc wants to expand “customer service” to provide security for the whole city—whether citizens are clients or not. In 2005, Genesis security guards began driving the streets of Kerrisdale, doing round-the-clock community patrol, phoning in suspicious behaviour to 911. The service, which then cost Genesis about $150,000 a year, started with money from the marketing budget but is now supported by the company’s home-monitoring contracts. The more residences Dubuc signs up, the more hours he puts back into community patrol, which today keeps an eye on 61,000 houses west of Granville. The relationship between community patrol and residential monitoring is symbiotic: if Genesis guards are patrolling the streets anyway—24/7 means they have to replace their Toyota Yarises every two years—they’re never far. It takes about 700 clients, $160,000 a year, to fund a car.

The Downtown Ambassadors project—those red-jacketed foot patrols—also started with the idea of protecting an area, not specific clients. This runs counter to the industry mind-set, Dubuc says, but “the whole community deserves to get served by you—even if they’re not your direct client.”

Between Genesis’s core business (90 percent of revenue comes from hotels, parking lots, et cetera) and community services like home-monitoring and the ambassadors, “We’re everywhere,” Dubuc says. “You go to work, to an event, you’ll see us. This is what I like: it’s more complete. Every security company should work together. People think about money, but if the 400 security companies in B.C. worked together, crime would decrease. It would be incredible.”

Dubuc’s guards can’t actually stop criminals, only displace them. “You cannot put all those people in jail indefinitely. Even if you wish to, there’s not enough space.” That’s if you can get the police out; if VPD dispatch has to respond to a domestic dispute or a shooting, a suspected break-in isn’t going to rouse a car. Homeowners’ concerns, then, become Genesis’s problem: “Guys making noise. A guy scratching cars in the night. A guy naked on the West Side.” Dubuc can draw on an endless litany of mischief. “Halloween we give extra free service. It’s the busiest night. Kids screaming, drinking. People on top of a school. We don’t have the right to arrest these people, but we do have the right to confront them.”

Which is where Genesis hit trouble. In a 31-page report in November, the Pivot Legal Society censured the Downtown Ambassadors and similar forces in the city. Its main complaint: guards overstep their authority. It recommended the city cease public funding for “private police until the impact of private security on the rights of low-income individuals” is known.

City hall, under the new Vision Vancouver government, agreed. The ambassadors program—which had expanded under the NPA from one to seven areas, and from $186,124 to $872,000 in funding—has shrunk and now receives three-quarters of its $800,000 budget through a Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association levy. The police department, whose union threatened to sue the city over the ambassadors, has beefed up its own presence; citizens can join neighbourhood patrols to hand out blankets, snacks, water, toothbrushes, and gum.

Dubuc is sanguine about the cutback. “When we were awarded the city contract, two years ago, I was very happy. That’s my company! Very cool!” But he alleges that critics, mindful of the expanded scrutiny, set his guards up, videotaping them without showing context, “wanting to see them make just one mistake, check if he’s picking his nose or grabbing something. We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. But every individual who works for us has been fingerprint-checked, they’ve got security training, they’ve been licensed by the government of B.C.”

That government, through the new Security Service Act, has cut training from 64 hours to 40 and put guards in charge of obtaining and holding their own licences. It’s easing regulations, says Dubuc, because every company has more clients than it can service, even though Canada now has more private security guards (91,325) than police (68,420). Genesis trains a further 1,000 guards a year, retaining maybe 100. Still there’s a shortfall.

B.C. needs 5,000 more security guards just for the 2010 Games. “I’m going to make enemies for saying this,” Dubuc says. “Where are they going to come from? You can’t hire 5,000 people for 17 days, then tell them, ‘Go home. We’ll call you in five, 10 years.’ ” You can hire from other provinces and other countries, but even that won’t fill the rolls. “Now they have a three-month probation licence and you don’t need to take the course. So you’re going to have people—hired on the street, at the gym; a cousin of a cousin, a friend—with no experience. And this is your security for the Olympics?”