MONTREAL — While former U.S. president Bill Clinton and his family may be looking to sightsee, explore and chill on their upcoming Quebec vacation, security experts say there will be nothing relaxing for those in charge of keeping them safe.
Security consultant Chris Mathers, who is a former RCMP officer, says preparation for VIP visits begins at least a few weeks in advance.
“Suffice it to say there are advanced teams from the Secret Service that will come to the location, they’ll liaise with the RCMP and local teams in order to go through the protocols they go through to ensure sufficient security for the diplomat,” he said.
Best-selling author Louise Penny confirmed earlier this week that Clinton and his family would spend a few days in North Hatley in the Eastern Townships region.
The group, which includes ex-secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Clintons’ daughter Chelsea and her two children, will reportedly stay at the renowned Manoir Hovey, which includes an upscale inn and cottages set among English gardens, acres of woods and prime lakeshore.
They are reportedly arriving on Sunday.
RCMP Const. Erique Gasse would not confirm the Clintons’ visit but said that, in general, the Mounties are in charge of security when former presidents visit Canada.
“Even if they have their personal guards with them, we offer some more layers (of security) around that person,” he said.
Gasse said the RCMP works in partnership with provincial and local police forces and the dignitary’s private security team to provide traffic control and other safety measures.
Several experts said the level of security for a visiting ex-president would be based on a risk analysis that takes into account who the travellers are, where they’re going, who they’re visiting and where they’re staying.
Retired RCMP officer Larry Busch, who worked in VIP security, said hotel employees would need to be cleared, emergency services personnel alerted and restaurants and other venues checked.
“Wherever they’re going, all of those venues have to be investigated and secured, as well as the motorcade routes,” he said in a phone interview.
Nevertheless, he said a 750-person town like North Hatley could pose less of a challenge.
“Small-town people don’t get as excited about international people coming to visit them,” he said. “They’re not going to mob them.”
Ty Watts, who has been involved in providing security for Bill Clinton’s speaking engagements, said the former president was easy to work with.
“The only issues we had were the days he worked were so long he exhausted himself to the point of collapse at the end of the day,” said Watts, who spent 32 years with the RCMP prior to working with Clinton’s team while in private practice.
“If he’s coming to vacation, he’s probably done some of those and just needs to get away from it and go for a walk in the woods.”
A big part of the challenge, he said, is to strike a balance between protecting VIPs and allowing them to enjoy their getaways as normally as possible.
“That’s what the guys are trained to do,” he said. “Give them as much space as you possibly can. Keep the scene safe and secure but allow them to live as human beings.”
Neither Mathers nor Busch would speculate on the size of the Clinton security team, but both agreed presidents get far more security than former Canadian prime ministers.
While ex-presidents are given lifetime Secret Service protection, Mathers said that as far as he knows, former Canadian prime ministers don’t get security escorts.
“But if there was a threat, the RCMP would provide adequate security,” he said, adding he’s never heard of any incidents of violence against a former prime minister.
Busch said the RCMP “keeps an eye on” former prime ministers and governor generals even if they aren’t assigned a security team.
“The RCMP certainly knows all the addresses and the personnel in previous prime ministers’ residences, their domestic help, children, schools, places of employment, things like that,” he said.
“So I wouldn’t say all of a sudden it drops down to zero.”
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press