Parliament needs access to classified info: AG

Auditor General Sheila Fraser on CTV's Canada AM

Auditor General Sheila Fraser on CTV's Canada AM

CTV.ca News Staff
Updated: Wed. Apr. 6 2005 3:04 PM ET

A day after exposing "serious weaknesses" in Canada's air-transport safety and passport system, Auditor General Sheila Fraser told Canada AM that Parliament needs better access to important classified security information.

Fraser's hard-hitting audit, released Tuesday, found that the effectiveness of screening for "threat" objects, such as knives or guns, at Canada's airports can't be judged adequately because the information is being kept secret.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority sends people carrying phony bombs, knives and guns through security to check the system's effectiveness. But Fraser says she's barred from reporting the results of those tests because the authority says the information is classified.

"We have access to (the information), as auditors," Fraser tells Canada AM, "but we cannot report it in our public reports."

Aside from our right to know how safe screening measures are in our airports, she says the main issue raised in her report is that there's no current mechanism in place to provide Parliament with important classified information.

"And we think that for the accountability of government to Parliament on security and intelligence operations, it's important that Parliament find a mechanism, a way of doing it."

She notes, however, that steps are being taken to create this mechanism, saying she was pleased to hear that the government is establishing a permanent joint House-Senate national security committee.

"That will give us other oversight bodies, the mechanism to be able to report on secret information to Parliament," says Fraser.

She also pointed out Tuesday that some airport security programs are going well, such as a $1-billion project to detect explosives in suitcases.

Should Canadians be worried?

But Fraser's report also exposed a badly run Passport Office as well as inadequate disaster preparedness for our emergency response teams.

Federal officials said they've been working on tightening passport procedures to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on Canadian travel documents.

But "quite frankly, I think the passport office was much more focused on client service and on delivering passports in a timely manner rather than on security concerns," Fraser told Canada AM.

When asked by host Beverly Thomson whether Canadians should have confidence in our passport system, Fraser says that's a difficult question to answer.

"Certainly the findings that we have are not a lot different from findings of legislative auditors in other countries," she says. "So some of the issues that we raise about intelligence sharing, more security over passports, are common problems elsewhere.

"But some of the concerns we raise, we should not have raised."

Her report found that criminals may be obtaining Canadian passports because the passport pffice (recently renamed Passport Canada) is rife with inadequate watch lists, outdated technology and poor record-checking.

She noted that her audit did not uncover specific instances of passports being issued to people with terrorist or criminal ties. But she says "it is possible. The risks are there. There are serious weaknesses in the security systems in the passport office."

Watch lists are supposed to include names of people wanted by police, serving sentences or on parole. Fraser found that those lists to be incomplete.

She added that some of these weaknesses have been corrected, "but there is certainly further work that has to be done."

She also found a big hole when it comes to training police, firefighters and medical personnel to deal with disasters. Fewer than 200 of 6,000 emergency personnel have been trained, and that there's a lack of funding to train them, her audit said.

Other findings by the auditor general:

  • inadequacies in Canada's ability to stage disaster exercises;
  • Ottawa still has no plans to deal with a major power outage, two years after a blackout left much of Ontario and the northeast United States in darkness;
  • a radar system designed to watch ships could cost five times as much as originally planned, and still may not work well; and
  • a $43-million radar system to monitor Canada's coasts could end up costing as much as $220 million to complete.

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