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Averting our own 9/11
National Post

In spite of the lessons learned on Sept. 11, 2001, our federal government has, for the most part, approached the war on terrorism with an alarming lack of urgency. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the United States, a flurry of activity from Ottawa -- notably the Anti-Terrorism Act, the earmarking of an additional $8-billion for national security and the imposition of the airline security tax -- suggested that the threat to our own country was being taken seriously. But since then, domestic and global security seems to have slowly slipped down the government's priority list as the focus has returned to various forms of social spending.

It therefore was immensely encouraging to learn this week that the Prime Minister's top national security advisor has no illusions about the severity of terrorist threats. Speaking on Thursday at the opening of the annual conference of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies, Robert Wright quite correctly stated that it is "absurd" to believe that terrorist attacks could not happen on our own soil.

"Osama bin Laden has publicly identified Canada as a country he believes his followers should attack," Mr. Wright said. "He ranked Canada as fifth out of seven countries, and every other country on that list has already been attacked.... So this is not someone else's problem."

For public consumption, at least, Mr. Wright also expressed the view that the government is on the right track in addressing security deficiencies. But given the urgency he has attached to defending ourselves against terrorism, he must surely realize there is much more to be achieved before Ottawa can claim to have done everything possible to minimize the threat.

As Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies director Martin Rudner told the National Post following Mr. Wright's address, the government has not done nearly enough to address terror threats to our infrastructure -- especially when it comes to the energy sector. It has failed to actively crack down on fundraising for terrorist and terrorist-affiliated groups, despite legislation to enable such a crackdown, and the Tamil Tigers -- responsible for more of the world's suicide bombings than any other group -- have not yet been outlawed by Cabinet. While improved, our intelligence services still fall short of the necessary level of sophistication -- mostly due to a lack of sufficient funding that also plagues the RCMP. And our immigration system, which has roughly 36,000 failed refugee claimants lingering long past their deportation orders, is simply not tight enough for any country that takes security threats seriously.

That Paul Martin has put in place a security advisor who clearly recognizes the need to take terrorist threats against Canada seriously is a promising sign. Now, Mr. Wright's challenge is to make security as much of a priority for Ottawa as it was three years ago.

© National Post 2004

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