An industrial painter working for Seaspan Victoria Shipyards was refused security clearance to work on Royal Canadian Navy warships and submarines in part because some of his Facebook friends include people with ties to biker gangs, Mexican drug cartels and drug-traffickers.
Billy Fitzgerald was denied his reliability status, which bars him from working on major federal government ship refurbishment contracts — including Seaspan’s $500-million contract to perform maintenance on naval frigates at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.
Fitzgerald, who has been employed by Seaspan since 2012, appealed the decision to the Federal Court of Canada. Justice Michael Phelan dismissed the appeal and sided with Canada’s director of industrial personnel security services, public services and procurement.
Anyone working on naval ships and submarines is required to pass a NATO security clearance.
In 2018, Fitzgerald requested a reliability status security clearance, which evaluates an individual’s honesty and whether he or she can be trusted to protect the employer’s interests, according to the Canadian government’s security-screening policies. Fitzgerald was asked to do an interview with two government investigators who said they would be “discussing your past, including finances, associates, personal conduct and travels. Most notably we will be discussing your criminal convictions.”
Fitzgerald had 13 criminal convictions dating back to 2000, including three for drug possession, two for possession for the purpose of trafficking, two for impaired driving and one for escaping lawful custody.
During the Feb. 21, 2019, interview, the investigators asked about some of Fitzgerald’s Facebook friends and how he knew them.
The investigators said his open Facebook profile revealed connections to a set of unnamed brothers who are high-level drug traffickers with links to Mexican cartels, local narcotics and an unspecified murder. Another friend was described in online articles as the “biggest player” in the B.C. drug trade and likely works with the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in bringing drugs in from Mexico.
The investigators found Fitzgerald was “dishonest and lacking credibility” in the interview. Investigators were concerned that if reliability status was granted, he would have access to military personnel, including people with access to weapons, ammunition and sensitive information.
They also feared Fitzgerald’s past criminal convictions and association with drug trafficking could place him at risk of blackmail or coercion.
In the court appeal, Fitzgerald argued that the director did not consider the age of his convictions and his maturity.
He also said he wasn’t given adequate notice of the case against him and said it was unclear he would be questioned about his Facebook profile and friends.
In his decision, Phelan said previous courts have established that security concerns trump an individual’s employment or personal life. He found that the decision was reasonable and justifiable.
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