National security and Joe Canadian

The new Trudeau government is clearly in a consulting mood.  It seems that they want to get Canadians’ views on a whole bunch of things, ranging from climate change to pipelines to refugee policy.   And now they are asking what Canadians think on national security.

Last week Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale made public a “National Security Green Paper” entitled Our Security Our Rights with the expressed intent to “prompt discussion and debate about Canada’s national security framework, which will inform policy changes that will be made following the consultation process”.  This is an interesting approach and one I am not sure many other countries do.

So what should Canadians make of this document?  It starts with the usual stuff about the balance between keeping Canadians safe while still adhering to respect rights and freedoms, so there is nothing new there.  Then it reminds the country that while in opposition the Liberals promised five things, namely:

• guarantee that all Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) warrants comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter);

• ensure all Canadians are not limited from legitimate protest and advocacy;

• enhance the redress process related to the Passenger Protect Program and address the issue of false positive matches to the list;

• narrow overly broad definitions, such as defining “terrorist propaganda” more clearly; and

• require a statutory review of the ATA, 2015 after three years.

It then reminds Canadians about the creation of Parliamentary oversight and the introduction of an office to coordinate counter radicalisation and community outreach, both of which are good proposals.

After a discussion of what the government is doing and what the challenges are with respect to national security, the green paper gets to the crux of the matter: what do average Canadians think?  It asks citizens to provide input through a Web site.  There will invariably be parliamentary hearings and town halls down the road as well.

All in all a good overview of an area that remains unknown to most Canadians.  Not surprisingly, intelligence agencies like CSIS do not share much of what they do and how they do it and for good reason.  When there is a vacuum of data however the hole tends to get filled by much questionable speculation so in this regard the green paper does a good job.

But while the spirit of consultation is to be commended we still have to accept that when all the suggestions and advice are received, our national security agencies still have to do what they can to keep us safe.  Irrespective of background, there are very few people, if any, who can make meaningful contributions to our dialogue on security since no one outside of those agencies has a complete understanding of the nature and scale of the threat.  When push comes to shove we as citizens have to trust that the professionals to whom we have given this duty will perform their tasks to the best of their abilities, neutralise threats, and stay within the law.  That is what we pay them for and that is what they do.

I suspect that there will be a few good ideas coming out of this consultative process.  I also hope that these good ideas can somehow be incorporated into what is already a world-class approach to national security.  The Liberal government also deserves praise for providing this opportunity.  Even if not all viewpoints are given equal weight and even if very few actually have an impact on security policy this exercise nevertheless provides an important window into an important issue.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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