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Embassy, October 20th, 2004
By Sarah McGregor

CASIS Conference Sparks Debate

"It's difficult to know if we're getting it right," said University of Toronto professor Wesley Wark during one of the first panels held at a major security and intelligence conference in Ottawa last week on the theme "Peace, Order and Public Safety Post 9/11: Are We Getting it Right?" His general outlook seemed to be fitting, as lawmakers and intellectuals grappled over the effectiveness of the federal government at managing terror threats within Canadian borders and elsewhere around the world.

Addressing delegates on Oct. 14 at one of the opening sessions of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies conference, Mr. Wark said the government was duty-bound three years ago to put more resources and brain power behind its national security agenda.

Since then, the intelligence network has been trying to understand the "new international security environment," but must learn to do so more rapidly, says Mr. Wark. For instance, a massive overhaul of the way government approaches security matters is still nowhere in sight, noted Mr. Wark. "We are scarcely beginning to try and learn lessons on how to fight a war on terror at home and abroad. We have objectives, but there is no sign of a real process [to achieve them] underway," he said.

Central to the government's efforts was the launch of the first-ever National Security Policy, tabled in the House of Commons by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan in April 2004. It presents a broad overview of measures designed to prevent new and emerging security threats and public health disasters, such as SARS. The policy guides the work of a new network of bodies created by Paul Martin the day he became Prime Minister. It includes the department of Emergency Preparedness, headed by McLellan; the Canadian Border Services Agency; a new cabinet committee focussed on safety; and a national security advisor to the PM.

Rob Wright, appointed to the high-level post, acknowledged during his keynote address that acting on the National Security Policy's 56 recommendations is a daily struggle. "Now we have to make it happen, to get it up and running this year and to set it on the track of continuous improvement," he said. "Getting it right will be a daily effort."

Scott Watson, a political science graduate student at the University of British Columbia, thinks Canada will continue to fight a losing battle until it gets at the root causes of terrorism. "There's not enough priority dealing with causes of terrorism ­ like dealing with poverty and promoting failed states," he said.

Several delegates attending the conference highlighted that the next few months will be a crucial period for security. First, the ongoing Arar inquiry will determine Canada's involvement with the deportation of a Canadian citizen to a Syrian jail in 2002 where he was allegedly tortured. While some speculate the public inquiry will provide few answers about the specific case, Justice Dennis O'Connor will release findings about Canada's deportation and detention process. In addition, the parliamentary review of the Anti-terrorism Act (Bill C-36) in December will put the protection of civil liberties high in mind. Finally, the creation of a Cross-Cultural Roundtable on Security, comprising ordinary Canadians, aims to give minorities a voice in national policy-making.

CASIS President Tony Campbell and a team that includes former government intelligence officials and academics organized the high-profile annual national security conference.

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