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Government lax in response to security threats: report

OTTAWA - Inadequate defence budgets, vulnerable seaports and poor Great Lakes security show that the federal government has fallen short in protecting Canadians, says a senate report.

"Our strong advice is to treat security and defence as major issues and get on with the job," states the report, which was released Wednesday by the senate defence committee.

The report credits the federal government for slightly boosting funding to National Defence, but says the department is still overstretched and hampered by deteriorating resources.

"The federal government has yet to respond with anything resembling an adequate increase in defence spending," says the report, which recommended that the defence budget be increased by $4 billion for fiscal year 2005-2006.

Intelligence agencies still do not have enough staff and scope to "thwart threats to the security of Canadians and Canada's allies," the report says. "The Canadian intelligence community is understaffed for the post 9/11 security environment. It needs more people."

The report also calls for a judicial inquiry into the potential security risk posed by organized crime in Canadian ports.

"The perimeters of Canadian ports are badly protected and this provides opportunities for smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists," the report states.

The report pushes for tightened security at airports, recommending that workers be searched before they enter restricted areas and that mail be screened.

Great Lakes security should also be made a higher priority, the report says, adding that authorities do not know what vessels operate on the those waterways.

The government has failed to beef up the "toothless" Coast Guard and give it national-security functions, the report states, adding that it "doesn't play a serious role in guarding our coasts."

While noting the "good progress made on approximately half of the problems the Committee has identified in the past three years," the committee says many of the recommendations have been "ignored, delayed or dealt with in other unsatisfactory ways by government."

Transport Minister Jean Lapierre told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the government is taking the report seriously.

"It's a very useful report," he said. "...Various departments have been inspired by this report."

Written by CBC News Online staff

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