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25 Mar 2004 21:37:06 GMT
Canada vows to do more to prevent attacks on U.S.

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA, March 25 (Reuters) - Canada will take new measures to fight terror and prevent the country from being used as a base by militants seeking to launch strikes against the United States, Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan said on Thursday.

"We refuse to be a weak link or a haven from which terrorists can attack others...We have a choice in Canada -- to be in denial or to be prepared," said McLellan, who is also minister of public safety and emergency preparedness.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks Ottawa has announced more than C$8 billion ($6 billion) in extra spending to boost security and ensure the safety of the border between Canada and the United States -- the world's two largest trading partners.

But McLellan -- referring to the March 14 Madrid bombings that killed 190 people -- said Canada must do more to boost national security, a topic she said topped Ottawa's agenda.

"Canada is prepared for the new threat environment of the 21st century but we cannot be complacent...not everything is perfect. Work remains to be done on several fronts," McLellan said in a speech to the Canadian Club of Ottawa.

It was the first major speech McLellan had made since being named to the newly created position of minister of public safety and emergency preparedness last December.

She said priorities include intelligence enhancement, marine security, cyber security, improving coordination among Canada's intelligence agencies as well as modernizing police fingerprints and criminal records systems.

McLellan praised "the unique relationship" between Canada and the United States and said the two nations need to do more to develop programs designed to allow low-risk trade across the borders.

"We need to continue to ensure Canada is not a base for threats to others...we need to engage our partners in North America and other allies around the world. We must work to protect them, as well as ourselves," she said in a speech welcomed by U.S. officials.

"We agree very much with the sentiments she expressed today," deputy U.S. ambassador Stephen Kelly told reporters.

McLellan also said Canada was tightening up its immigration system, which some U.S. critics charge does not do enough to weed out anti-American militants.

The critics often refer to the case of Algerian-born Ahmed Ressam, who was arrested in December 1999 trying to enter the United States from Canada in a car packed with explosives. It later emerged he had ignored a Canadian deportation order and even managed to obtain a Canadian passport.

McLellan made clear the new measures she outlined would require more money.

"I've already told my colleague the minister of finance that as we move forward in this state of heightened vigilance we will need additional resources," she said, giving no details. A federal budget delivered on Tuesday announced an extra C$605 million over five years for security measures.

McLellan said Canada needs to address what she called "gaps in our maritime security capabilities". Critics say Canada's navy is woefully underequipped and complain that only a fraction of containers entering the country by sea are checked.

Among the other measures she identified was "the need for a government-wide secret communication system". A major power blackout in central Canada last August threw much of Ottawa into chaos and left ministries unable to contact each other.

($1=$1.33 Canadian)


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