ACE/Clear Defense Inc is proving a smashing point

Peter Fabian likes to beat on a plate of glass now wand then with a baseball bat to see if he can shatter it. Sometimes, He'll even fire a bullet into it. The glass may crack, but it holds firm. Fabian is out to prove a smashing point. 

Fabian is the president and chief executive officer of ACE/Clear Defense Inc., an Ottawa-based company that produces a unique security laminate — it is paper-thin, but fully transparent. This polyester film renders window glass impervious to the force of bomb blasts, bullets, projectiles of every sort, and even hurricanes and earthquakes.

The product is attracting the attention of the U.S. military, having recently been demonstrated quite successfully to defense department and police force officials at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia.

The precise formula for making the ACE/Clear Defence security laminate is a closely guarded trade secret, but according to a company backgrounder, the product works by absorbing the energy of an impact throughout the surface of the laminate and combinations of adhesives. It also prevents flying glass by keeping the shards stuck to the film. This is vital, because more people die in urban terrorist bombings from flying glass than from the explosion itself.

"The glass shards are like thousands of daggers flying at you," Fabian explains.

Born in 1960 in Montreal, Fabian was a technical director in Canadian television for 14 years. After he was laid off in 1989, he worked in broadcasting in the Arctic for two years. When he returned to Ottawa, he bought a company that used polyester and adhesive that transforms plate glass into a bullet and bomb-resistant protective barrier.

The purchase left him with only $3,000 to run his new company. But in less than a decade, he turned ACE/Clear Defense Inc. of Ottawa into one of the Financial Post's 50 Best Managed Private Companies in Canada.

From its humble beginnings in a 10-foot–by-10-foot office, ACE/Clear Defence is now a company worth $20 million a year, with offices in Vancouver, Montreal, New York and a plant in Martinsville, Virginia. ACE/Clear Defense grew by more than 200 percent last year and promises to triple revenue in 1999.


Fabian sees a growing terrorist threat in the Ottawa area, and deplores the steady budgetary cuts to military and civil defense, and downsizing of police forces across Canada.

He believes that Canadians really have their heads in the sand, because a lot of terrorist activities are funneled through Canada into the States, and it's only a matter of time before terrorist activity happens here.

"Our borders are too porous," he explains. "We have three oceans and we can't defend our coastline. If I were a terrorist trying to make a point, what better place to do it than our nation's capital with so much vulnerability surrounding that embassy?"

Fabian is referring to the new Embassy of the United States of America on Sussex Drive, shoehorned into the heart of the busy Bytown Market district.

"You have the National Gallery and the Chateau Laurier nearby," he adds. "I would not want to be a diplomat staying in that hotel, knowing that the American Embassy is across the street. If I were dis-playing art, I would not want it displayed in our art museum just down the road, for fear of shrapnel from a bomb blast ripping apart my art. Our simulated bombings show us that unprotected glass is found 1000 feet from ground zero. This is from an eight-pound C4 bomb. That's about the size of a large grapefruit, and it can be hidden in a briefcase or knapsack and just left on the ground somewhere. Placing it in a vehicle makes it worse, because the shrapnel from the exploding vehicle will add to the carnage. And it decimates the windows nearby. The embassy will have very little damage to it, because it has been designed with this threat in mind — it has very thick walls and glass. But the area surrounding it is at serious risk."

An Oklahoma City-style bombing would affect the area around the American Embassy for five city blocks in all directions, Fabian said. This would encompass a good chunk of the teeming Market district. The old dry brittle glass in the heritage buildings surrounding the American Embassy would become air-borne very quickly, Fabian notes. The shards would be the size of daggers and would impale anyone sitting near those windows. As for walls, anything within a 50-foot circumference would crumble or become airborne. But glass is the weak link in any security concern.

"We have to be on guard all the time, but a terrorist only has to 'get lucky' once," Fabian said. "And these days, you can get instructions on how to build a pipe bomb off the Net."

The National Gallery is considering replacing or strengthening its glass curtainwall to withstand a bomb blast. "The all-glass atrium is a target waiting for something to happen," Fabian observes. "The President of the United States and Hilary Clinton will be there in a few weeks, sitting under that unprotected glass atrium enjoying breakfast with some of the political bigwigs in Ottawa. I would not want to be the RCMP on that watch, because that is a very serious con-cern. I'd rather the President was sitting under my glass than unprotected glass. I want to stress that we're not a window-tint. We're in the security industry. We have a laminate that is in a class by itself.

"Canadians right now feel that they are safe, but we will soon wake up to the shock of reality," Fabian predicts. "The innocence and naivete that we've enjoyed through the years will blow up in our faces in the 21st century and we'll be watching over our shoulders as the Americans do. The reality is that Canada has entered the age of terrorism. We have to get our heads out of the sand. It's the fool who thinks that all is fine. Thinking that everything is okay and being certain are two different things."