Wed, March 31, 2004

Huge gaps in security

OTTAWA -- Canada's spending watchdog slammed the Liberal government for falling short of protecting Canadians from terrorists by leaving "significant gaps" in basic anti-terrorism measures. Auditor General Sheila Fraser found that frontline airport workers still don't have access to a database of lost and stolen passports - 25,000 of which are reported annually.

"These are basic things that should be working more effectively than they are now," Fraser said in a press conference. "I would hope that this report will lead to corrective action."

The AG also revealed that about 4,500 workers in five of Canada's biggest airports - Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver - have links to organized crime or illegal activities.

Fraser said the majority of them have gone undetected by the RCMP, which has restricted its checks of Canada's 110,000 airport workers to their criminal records. "This represents a serious threat to security at airports," the audit report said.

Fraser said officials have put 247 individuals with clearance to restricted areas at the Toronto and Montreal airports under surveillance for criminal conspiracies.

Thanks to the AG, the Mounties also uncovered the fact that 16 businesses operating in airports have links to criminal activity. Nine are in Calgary and Halifax.

The AG said the Liberals have left some vital police operations in the Dark Ages, noting that the Mounties continue to use a paper filing system for the hefty list of stolen and missing passports, instead of on a computer database. They had a backlog of 4,032 when the audit wrapped up.

"In our opinion the most significant issue still unresolved is customs officials' lack of access at the front line to information on lost and stolen passports," the report says.

Fraser hammered the Liberals for failing to learn vital intelligence lessons from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The government earmarked $7.7-billion for five years of anti-terrorism measures shortly after the attack, but Fraser found that security forces like CSIS and the RCMP still don't have the means to share information.

"The importance of intelligence in the fight against terrori0sm cannot be overstated," the AG report said.

The audit was done before Prime Minister Paul Martin created the new superministry of Public Security under Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan.

"We have come a long way since Sept. 11," McLellan said. "Do we have more to do around inter-operability? Yes we do."