When Hydro-Quebec gave its security guards vastly expanded powers of arrest and investigation, the utility said it needed to guard against a growing threat of terrorism. But a union of Hydro’s own workers says security hasn’t been beefed up at major Hydro installations at all. In fact, the union says it would be pretty easy for someone to come in and blow up a dam.

“Any psycho can get in,” said Michel Bibeault, secretary-general of the union representing Hydro’s blue-collar workers. “They haven’t improved security at the dams.”

Bibeault went on to give details of how easy it would be to blow up a dam.

The lax security raises an obvious question. Why did Hydro police get the expanded powers in the first place? Crees, ecologists and human-rights groups fear the main target of the revamped Hydro police force is not terrorists, but peaceful opponents of hydroelectric projects.

Hydro security now has the same powers as other police in Quebec, including possibly the authority to use wire-tapping.

The Crees and others are challenging the new powers of the Hydro police at the Quebec Human Rights Commission. The legal challenge was filed in 1993 after a secret Hydro document was leaked that outlined the 210-person police force’s new mandate. The document, written in 1991 at the height of the Persian Gulf war, expressed fear about a supposed growing terrorist threat from natives and environmentalists.

But Bibeault said Hydro police are just “playing James Bond,” and doing little to actually protect Hydro installations. “When the document was leaked during the Gulf war, the Hydro-Quebec building in Montreal was a fortress,” he said. “But at the dams, anyone could have gone there and planted a bomb.”

Bibeault added that Hydro security guards aren’t the right people to be dealing with terrorism. “There’s other people paid by the government to deal with that. ”

He said his union, which has 7,000 members, is pressuring the utility to reign in its security force. Hydro employees are worried about the expanded powers because they have come under increasing surveillance by Hydro cops.

Bibeault said the Hydro cops have started intervening in a heavy-handed manner in ordinary employee-management disputes. Workers are winding up with criminal charges in incidents that before might have resulted in a reprimand. In one incident, a dam operator made a mistake and allowed too much water to flow through a turbine. Ordinarily, the employee would have been suspended without pay for a few months. This time, Hydro police got involved and charged him with criminal negligence.