Apr. 28, 2004. 06:27 AM
Miro Cernetig 
Graham Fraser 
Richard Gwyn 
Stephen Handelman 
Chantal Hebert 
James Travers 
Ian Urquhart 
Thomas Walkom 
$690M security plan unveiled
Ottawa pledges to zero in on ports, bolster spying
Digital chips in passports aim to thwart forgeries


OTTAWA—The federal government will do more spying, tighten port security, introduce digital chips in passports to thwart forgeries, and crack down on bogus refugees as part of a new comprehensive national security policy unveiled yesterday.

Deputy Prime Minister and Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler released a sweeping 52-page document entitled "Securing an Open Society" that defines threats to security broadly — everything from terrorism to public health disasters. They outlined spending another $690 million over five years to upgrade Canada's ability to respond to both.

"This is in response to really only one over-arcing thing which is our obligation to do everything we reasonably can to protect the safety and security of Canadians," said McLellan.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper shrugged it off as pre-election posturing, but security experts said the policy document is an ambitious, comprehensive plan that identifies clear goals.

However, because it covers the gamut of threats from organized crime, pandemics, terrorism, health issues and even environmental threats, it may be too broad to deliver on, or to meet the expectations of Canada's allies, such as the United States.

The U.S. has clearly focused its national security strategy on counter-terrorism and expects the same of its closest allies, said Wesley Wark, of the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies. Wark praised the document, but added, "What remains to be seen is the execution."

"The Martin government will have a job selling this vision to the Americans," he said. "The U.S. will find it typically woolly and Canadian."

The new policy also fails to answer key questions about what role Canada's military and diplomatic corps should play in security, counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence, and whether Canada should create a stand-alone foreign intelligence agency like the CIA.

McLellan and officials downplayed the need for such an agency, saying it would likely rob the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) of needed resources.

But those answers will only come after ongoing foreign policy and defence reviews and a study of Canada's intelligence-gathering needs are complete.

The policy comes on the eve of Prime Minister Paul Martin's visit to Washington, and on the heels of two damning reports on Canadian security efforts by the federal auditor general and a Senate committee on defence and security.

McLellan denied its release was timed for political benefit, but said it sends an important signal to Washington.

"This is about (Canadians') collective safety and security. Clearly that's our primary obligation. But be under no illusions. Do we care about our allies? Do we care that we do our share not only to protect Canadians but to protect the citizens of other countries we view as our allies and beyond? Obviously. And who is our closest ally and best friend? The United States of America."

While most of the money — $308 million — will go to tighter maritime security, the biggest emphasis from a policy perspective is on the collection and analysis of crucial information, whether it be from passports, fingerprints, cargo container content lists, signs of public health threats, or threats to critical cyber-infrastructure.

"Intelligence is the lifeblood of enhanced security," said McLellan, saying $30 million would be spent on intelligence gathering and ana lysis in an Integrated Threat Assessment Centre housed at CSIS's Ottawa headquarters.

Participation by key federal departments and agencies will be mandatory, McLellan said, acknowledging that an earlier effort to integrate federal information-gathering efforts failed because some departments claimed to be stretched too thin to allocate staff to the meetings.

The $308 million marine security allocation includes: $165 million to be spent on Marine Security Operations Centres; $75 million to increase the on-water presence of the Coast Guard, RCMP and Canadian Forces; $25 million towards more aerial surveillance by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; $38 million towards "fleet communications" and tighter security at ports and the St. Lawrence Seaway locks.

Lax port security is seen as the big black hole in Canada's security net, and consultant Reid Morden, a former CSIS director, said yesterday there should have been a bigger emphasis on the urgency to address it.

A promise to table "new measures to streamline the refugee determination process" was also vague, he said, and failed to recognize "that is where our allies see us as most vulnerable."

Yesterday's announcement also creates a new $50 million fund to be used to promote "peace, order and good government" in failing states, potential havens for international terrorists and organized criminal networks, the government says. But senior officials were vague yesterday on just what the money will be used for.

Cotler, a respected human rights lawyer, called the document the first "comprehensive blueprint for action" and argued, as he did during the 2001 debate on the Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-36, that tighter security measures do not threaten individual rights and freedoms.

"The escalating and emergent threats constitute an assault on both the security of our democracy and on this most fundamental of rights — the right to human security."

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