When one of the most famous people on the planet comes to town, it’s no surprise that security will be tight.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama is on a speaking tour and has a Winnipeg show at Bell MTS Place at 6 o’clock Monday night.
RCMP Sgt. Chris Wilkie is in charge of the security detail and says his team has been working with the U.S. Secret Service to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.
Wilkie said RCMP units will be spread throughout the venue – both in plain sight and mixed in with the crowds – to cover all of the bases.
“We’ll have a few people standing around, providing site security, a number of uniformed and plainclothes members, and it allows us to get a reading of what the crowd’s doing, and it also allows us to know if we’re going to have enough resources in a specific area,” he said.
“Usually we have a fairly large footprint of plainclothes members, uniformed members and specialty teams that come out to assist with us, and it covers the gamut of things. We do, for smaller visits, 10-15 people up to 300 people depending on the visit.”
The RCMP VIP section looks after the logistical details and helps ensure everything runs smoothly from the moment a VIP, like Obama, hits the ground.
“We are tasked with providing them with security and organizing their routes and any things that they are going to be doing here,” Willkie said. “Someone else takes care of their schedule.”
This is nothing new for Willkie, who has been working within the VIP section for the past 13 years. His team oversees roughly 20 VIP visits to Winnipeg every year.
While he cannot provide specific details or how many members are involved, it is substantial.
“We do anywhere from a smaller visit 10 to 15 people up to 300 people depending on the visit,” he said. “For the Queen we do large, large numbers because of the specific profile she has.”
The Winnipeg Police Service are also helping and of course wherever the 44th president goes, the U.S. Secret Service follows.
“They are with those details all the time so they know what needs to be done,” Willkie said. “We take the lead in a lot of it but we can learn from them cause they know the protectee.”
RCMP said the threat level in Winnipeg isn’t as high as it is in the United States and that the political climate and gun-control laws are different in Canada. But that doesn’t mean security is taken lightly.
Social media is also monitored closely not just in the weeks and days leading up to the event, but live during the event.
“A lot of people are keyboard warriors and like to make a lot of interesting comments when they’re behind the keyboard,” Willkie said.
But it’s not just violence the RCMP worry about when protecting a dignitary or celebrity.
“Violence against them is one issue, but that violence we can kind of plan for,” he said. “Embarrassment is something that we can’t.
“Years ago with the former prime minister, he got the pie in the face. Those are embarrassing moments that we try to get away from.”
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For people attending to event Monday night, security measures shouldn’t feel much different than going to a Winnipeg Jets game.
“It will be similar to a hockey game. It won’t appear any different,” he said. “We’ll have a few people standing around providing site security, a number of uniformed and plain clothes members. It allows us to get a reading of what the crowd’s doing and if we have enough resources in a specific area. It would be just like a hockey game.”
True North Sports and Entertainment have suggested those attending the Obama event leave their bags, purses, etc. at home to speed up security checks on the way into the building.
Obama fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the president while he’s in town may be a little disappointed to learn that that Obama won’t be taking in the sights of Winnipeg on his visit. Wilkie said the only way to get a glimpse of the former U.S. leader is by having a ticket to the speaking engagement.
“He’s coming from the airport straight to Bell MTS Place, so other than seeing the motorcade coming down the road, there’s probably not a lot of areas to see him out and about.”
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