Thursday, December 4, 2003

Time to consider need for national security agency, says solicitor general

Click to zoom Solicitor General Wayne Easter responds to questions in the House of Commons. (CP Archive/Fred Chartrand)
OTTAWA (CP) - It's time to consider the creation of a centralized national security agency, perhaps something like the American homeland security department, Solicitor General Wayne Easter said Thursday.

At the very least, there should be a complete review of national security policy in light of the threats posed by terrorism and organized international crime, he told a conference on the Canada-U.S. relationship.

"We must continue to look ahead to what our broad national security policy should be," he said.

"We must consider seriously the need for a more centralized national security responsibility and accountability."

Currently, national security is dealt with by a half-dozen departments and agencies, from Defence and Coast Guard to Customs and Transport.

Easter said a central agency might also help in co-coordinating the work of the provinces and territories in times of crisis.

After the speech, he said a Canadian agency need not be identical to the American homeland security department, which is almost the size of the entire Canadian public service.

"We do have to look a ways of, maybe not going as far as they did in terms of homeland security, but looking at ways of pulling a number of groups that are very directly involved in security issues together to ensure the best compatibility and the best ability to do fast responses."

Easter, who is responsible for the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said threats today go beyond terrorism.

"In Paris at the G8 security ministers meeting, we spoke of not only terrorism but organized crime and other pressing issues such as child pornography and exploitation. Many of these areas require a global solution."

One challenge is to balance security needs against rights and freedoms, he said, and a policy review would offer the chance to examine that balance.

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