I first noticed the dog in August of last year. Apparently it had been posted after an incident earlier that summer at the small ferry terminal that I pass through in order to get home to the small island I live on, Gabriola, one of the Gulf Islands in BC. Apparently it had also been posted because the guards doing canine patrol duty at the larger ferry terminal nearby have time left on their shift when they’re finished, and so the BC Ferries Corp. sends them over to our terminal to get their remaining hour in.
In any event, our ferry now has an attack dog posted at the entrance to the terminal, in time for the last sailing.
Some people don’t like it when I use the term “attack dog.” They prefer to call it a “security dog.” But I don’t like euphemisms. I was told by one BC Ferries employee who would know that the dog is not a drug-sniffing dog (or rather, dogs – there’s a series of them, each with a different handler). I asked one of the handlers if the dog was an attack dog. “It’ll do what it has to do,” the handler replied.
I’ll take that as a “Yes.”
Anyway, the dog and its buddy arrive at around 10:10 each evening. Now, it seems to me if BC Ferries was really concerned about the safety of its staff and customers, they might want to protect us also from all the dangers that lurk in downtown Nanaimo prior to 10:10 pm. But no, 10:10 it is. And it’s not entirely clear what they’re protecting us from. They won’t say exactly what the “incident” was that prompted the dog’s posting, although Deborah Marshall, BC Ferries’ executive director of public affairs, did speak vaguely to the Nanaimo Daily News of staff being verbally abused, and “ongoing drug abuse problems, and possible illegal activity on site.” Whatever it was, it was enough, I have been told by yet another BC Ferries employee, to deeply impact one of the workers at the terminal, who requested extra security.
Now, let me be clear: BC Ferries has an obligation to respond to its employees’ concerns. And there are any number of things they could have done in this instance. They could have posted a security guard, sans dog. They could have posted two security guards, sans dogs. They could let ferry workers work in pairs. They could offer that worker and any others who feel unsafe at the terminal — not all do – a posting at either of the other two terminals in the area.
But post an attack dog? Not so much.
Between the dog and the loudspeaker in the adjoining shipping facility that is triggered by movement in the ferry terminal, and declares “You are trespassing, you are trespassing” to everyone who walks by, coming home at night has become about as pleasant as passing through a checkpoint. But what really interests me here is what the dog tells us about BC Ferries’ view of the communities it serves. I work in downtown Nanaimo on many an evening, and regularly pass through its streets on my way home, and it is no more nor less dangerous than any other small city downtown – which is to say, not very. But to BC Ferries it is apparently a morass of what Deborah Marshall described to me on the phone as “undesirables,” so threatening it takes an attack dog to keep them at bay. But who exactly are these undesirables? The kids who panhandle on the streets? The occasional mentally ill person seen shouting at an unknown tormentor? Drug addicts? Maybe it’s the people from the nearby reserve – they’re always good for “othering.”
My guess is even BC Ferries doesn’t know who they are. They just know they’re out there.
And I don’t doubt a lot of their customers and staff feel the same way. We live in a fear-driven world these days. Terrorists strike in Paris, and politicians and networks use it as an occasion to feed our nightmares. Random crime occurs, and a sleepy city downtown is suddenly Gotham. And many of the people who feel fear would like to download it onto the rest of us. But they can keep it. I don’t want it. I don’t live in fear, and I don’t want BC Ferries telling me I need to.
Especially when they seem to think the danger only starts at 10:10 pm. If they really feel they need to protect us, they really ought to be better at it than that.
Most nights when I return on the final sailing, there’s just me and two or three other foot passengers, including that lovely woman who works at the mall across the street. Sometimes a few cars, sometimes none. The BC Ferries workers are courteous and professional, most of them; the only potential aggressor to be seen is the attack dog.
Someone explained to me that the dog is there to protect its handler. I couldn’t have summed up the situation better myself.