Wesley Wark

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

POSTED AT 11:26 PM EST Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003


With remarkable stealth, Paul Martin and his team developed, and have now unveiled, a surprising and ambitious security agenda. It will take some time to feel its full impact, but Mr. Martin clearly intends to address the many deficiencies in Canada's domestic security practice and international role that have emerged since Sept. 11. The surprise is all the sharper, because as finance minister under Jean Chrétien, Mr. Paul Martin showed little interest in security; he authored a December, 2001, security budget that showered money on security and intelligence agencies, but lacked strategic vision. The new security agenda marks a major step forward in Mr. Martin's thinking.

The most visible aspects of the Martin government's determination to reform its security policy involve the creation of a new Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, with Anne McLellan as minister, and the decision to hold a full-scale review of Canadian foreign and defence policy (both measures resisted by the Chrétien government). Mr. Martin knows he could pay a price with the Canadian public if these actions are seen as political accommodation with the United States, or promoting a continentalist strategy. But while we worry at that bone, we miss the made-in-Canada significance of these initiatives.

Some commentary has suggested that the new Department of Public Safety is simply Homeland Security-lite; the details suggest otherwise. The new department will be large, especially if it swallows the newly proclaimed Canada Border Services agency, but will never rival the Homeland Security behemoth.

Its mandate is unlike that of its U.S. counterpart in key ways. For one thing, it defines security to embrace not only terrorist threats, but other dangers to civil society, including health pandemics, natural, and manmade disasters. The Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness has been moved into the new department so it will have the capacity to monitor these broader "threats." It will work alongside the principal security components of the old Solicitor-General's department, the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

A second difference between the Canadian and U.S. ways is that the public safety department will have no jurisdiction over citizenship and immigration issues, thereby avoiding any identification of immigration as a form of threat to national security.

Anne McLellan's new department is sure to have teething problems. Her first priority should be to redraw the boundaries between the RCMP and CSIS so that the RCMP's role in counterterrorism investigations becomes strictly limited and CSIS's lead mandate is reinforced.

The announcement of a major foreign policy and defence review is long overdue. Too little was done, especially after 9/11, to adjust Canadian strategy and capabilities to the era of globalization, global conflict and terror. The Prime Minister promises the review will define a new "National Security Policy" — something Canada lacks. To define such a policy will be Bill Graham's greatest challenge as the minister responsible for the review.

At National Defence, newcomer David Pratt will have to decide on the extent to which Canada's military requires "transformation" into a different kind of fighting force. Mr. Pratt, a notable enthusiast for the addition of a special forces capability to the Canadian military, once sponsored a private member's bill calling for the creation of a Canadian foreign intelligence service. Will he fight for this from his new seat in cabinet?

Beyond the high-visibility items in the Paul Martin security agenda come other noteworthy initiatives. The new post of "national security adviser" to the Prime Minister will be filled by Rob Wright, currently the security and intelligence co-ordinator at the Privy Council office. Mr. Wright's new clout may enable him to ensure that co-ordinated intelligence and threat assessments reach the desks of the Prime Minster and his principal cabinet ministers, thus fixing one of the old system's worst problems. There will also be a new cabinet committee on security, public health, and emergencies.

In a major departure, intelligence and security issues will no longer be the prerogative of cabinet alone, but will be brought to the floor of the House of Commons. Mr. Martin proposes a national security standing committee of the House, with members sworn as privy councillors so that they can receive classified briefings. While MPs will face a steep learning curve, and must learn to function in a bipartisan manner, a parliamentary committee promises much greater public airing of key security policy issues.

And finally, the Martin government intends to learn some lessons from the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen detained in New York on suspicions of terrorism, and packed off to a jail and torture in Syria. There has been no announcement yet of a public inquiry into the Canadian threads of the Arar case, but the determination to create a review mechanism for the RCMP's national security activities is designed to fix the problem of the Mounties' political accountability.

The Martin security agenda creates great expectations. Its test will come as promises are put, always imperfectly, into action.

Wesley K. Wark specializes in security and intelligence issues at the Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto.

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