Evidence of meeting #91 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was case.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Heather Jeffrey  Assistant Deputy Minister, Consular, Emergency Management and Security, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
David Drake  Director General, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Intelligence Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
Commissioner James Malizia  Assistant Commissioner, National Security and Protective Policing, Federal Policing, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

4:45 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Consular, Emergency Management and Security, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Heather Jeffrey

As consular officers operating in a foreign country, we don't have any ability to dictate or to implement the legal and prosecutorial processes that are under way.

We can advise Canadians on legal representation. We visit them to make sure their detention conditions are humane and in accordance with international standards. We advocate on their behalf. We can share knowledge about local contacts, circumstances, and different resources that might be of assistance to them, depending on their situation.

We're not an investigatory body, nor would we be in any position in a foreign jurisdiction to enter into the inner workings of an investigation.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

This question is to the assistant commissioner.

You mentioned in your opening remarks that you deal with a lot of organizations, whether they be the Five Eyes, Interpol, or Europol. My question is this. You're probably going to be dealing in states that are either broken, half broken, close to broken, fragile, or failed. In those specific countries, I don't think Interpol, Europol, or the Five Eyes will have much of a presence, or the ability to have a presence. How do you deal with that situation?

Mr. Drake mentioned that in the Philippines there were certain parts of the country that were not governable. If you go to even more extreme cases, where you have absolute failed states, how do you deal with that situation then?

I don't want you to give any kind of operational details, but to me it means you would have to deal with some local actors on the ground. You would have to determine and discern the legitimacy of their actions and how legitimate they are in providing you with any assistance, in the absence of any kind of law enforcement or anything that's there.

4:45 p.m.

A/Commr James Malizia

Certainly in countries or areas that have very little or no structure in place, it's extremely challenging and difficult.

We will always look to leverage either our own Canadian agencies—GAC or other agencies—to see if they have assets, or if not assets, if they have relationships. We'll do the same with our Five Eyes partners or other trusted allies to see whether they have ingress to a certain area or country, to see if there is something. However, effectively, if no one has any footprint or any ability to verify information and its credibility, then it does render our work extremely challenging.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Saini.

I'm going to go to Mr. Sidhu now, please.

March 27th, 2018 / 4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you all for your testimony today.

Ms. Jeffrey, you made a comment about reaching out to Canadians to register and get their insurance before they leave the country. I was wondering what kind of plan you have in mind. Is it going to be a mandatory...? Are you going to be reaching Canadians through the airlines, making sure the airlines take their information before they leave the country? Can you explore that, please?

4:45 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Consular, Emergency Management and Security, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Heather Jeffrey

Currently 220,000 Canadians are registered on our registration of Canadians abroad program. It's a voluntary program. Canadians provide details on where they're going to be, under strict privacy and security rules, so they're confident that their information isn't going to be misused by others and will only be used for consular purposes. We draw on that information to send out alerts when there are emergencies or security-related natural disaster circumstances in their destinations, to provide advice and establish contact and ensure their well-being. For example, this year about 650 emergency notifications went out.

However, we know that this number of 220,000 is a small percentage of the travelling public. In particular, many travellers go to destinations that they perceive as being low risk. Most Canadians are travelling to the United States. That is by far the foreign destination most people go to, and when people travel to the United States, they don't normally consider it useful to register on this kind of service. They expect their trip will be smooth.

Part of what we're doing is to reach out through social media channels. We have a Facebook and Twitter presence, which is growing quickly, and to incorporate them we also have new messaging apps to try to reach a greater percentage of the travelling public, in particular those groups and sectors that might not be as likely to research our websites or to actively seek out information. I think of young travellers in particular.

We also visit trade fairs and industry conferences, and we've undertaken a series of surveys of returning travelling Canadians at airports this year to get from them directly what kinds of sources they're more likely to use, the type of format and context they're looking for that would be of most use to them. We're working on a new, much more targeted communications strategy to try to reach out.

I'm not aware of any of our partners who have a mandatory registration. It would be pretty difficult, I think, to put in place, and I think that our strategy is to look at how we can ensure that more Canadians are aware of the potential value to them of having their coordinates on file with us so we can reach them quickly in case of emergency.

We've just come through one of the more intense Atlantic hurricane seasons we've seen, and that will help the travelling public's awareness this year. Our challenge is to make sure we can increase awareness without people having to go through those kinds of very difficult circumstances.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

I was looking for that word “mandatory”. Do you think we need that going forward? Would it help the consular services if we make it mandatory in the next five or 10 years?

4:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Consular, Emergency Management and Security, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Heather Jeffrey

I think that for us it's about finding ways to demonstrate the value to people of providing that information voluntarily.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jati Sidhu Liberal Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Okay.

I'm pretty sure my second question comes under your umbrella. It's about contingency plans for Canadian missions abroad to prepare for emergency services. There can be armed conflict, natural disasters, health epidemics, political destabilization. What kind of plans do we have at consular services?

4:50 p.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Consular, Emergency Management and Security, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

Heather Jeffrey

All missions have their own emergency plans, of course, that deal with how they would respond to different forms of emergency situations in country. There are all the ones you enumerated.

There is an emergency coordinator at each mission. Those plans are developed and exercised in coordination with headquarters, where we have a 24-7 emergency watch and response centre that works with an incident command structure that can be stood up and exponentially increased through bringing in call centre staff—several hundred, for example, in the case of hurricanes—with rotating 24-hour service.

In each country, each mission's jurisdiction has a plan in place to cover the kinds of emergencies that are most likely to occur, and they differ from country to country. In some places it's seismic risks from earthquakes. In other places it's civil unrest, and in other places it might be another form of natural disaster. Those plans are exercised, and we have a really rigorous lessons-learned process from past events.

For example, we are already implementing and have implemented the lessons learned from the hurricanes, and that includes expanding the use of mobile platforms. We're seeing people branching out into new media and texting. People don't call as often. They want to communicate in other ways. That's just one example.

All the lessons from previous evacuations and responses, whether it was the Lebanon evacuation or others, get incorporated into the emergency plans, which are more finely honed each time. That discipline and emergency planning and response are very important, and we coordinate here in Ottawa with the Government Operations Centre to connect us to the broader range of services.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Thank you, Mr. Sidhu.

We'll go to Mr. Genuis, please.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses.

Mr. Malizia, since you raised the issue, there are a couple of questions I want to ask about returning Daesh fighters to Canada.

How many Daesh fighters have come back to Canada in the last two and a a half years?

4:55 p.m.

A/Commr James Malizia

I don't have any numbers to provide to the committee, but I believe a number was publicly stated by our colleagues from CSIS on the number of returnees to Canada some time ago.

That said, I think the issue of returnees requires the very close coordination that we've certainly undertaken with our partners.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

That's great. If you don't have a number here, I wonder if that's something you could provide to the committee in writing. I think the public and the committee would certainly be interested in knowing that.

I wonder if you can give the committee a sense of what proportion of those returnees in the last two and a half years have been charged.

4:55 p.m.

A/Commr James Malizia

We've had a few charges, and I can get those details with respect to the number and types of charges for you as well. I don't have that information with me here.

We have not commented publicly on any numbers with respect to Daesh fighters returned here in Canada.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Thank you very much.

I just think that in light of the testimony you gave about the process you follow in terms of identifying fighters and seeking to gather evidence for the sake of charging them, it would be helpful for the committee to know how many have returned in the last two and a half years, as well as how many of them have faced charges, and what kinds of charges. I totally understand that's not the primary focus of your testimony and that you maybe don't have those numbers, but I would appreciate your being able to provide those in writing to the committee at a later point, and we can share that information.

On a different vein, I'd like to—

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Before you ask that, Garnett, as I understand it, the officials have released this information. Roughly180 individuals are currently fighting in conflict abroad, and about half of those are believed to be involved in some of the various conflicts. About 60 individuals have returned to Canada in recent years after fighting with terrorist groups abroad.

This comes from the RCMP.

4:55 p.m.

A/Commr James Malizia

It comes from CSIS.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

It comes from CSIS, but was this during the testimony to the Senate?

I'm just trying, if it is public information—

4:55 p.m.

A/Commr James Malizia

It's public. The information that was released by CSIS was made public a few years ago.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bob Nault

Okay, so we'll make sure we make that available to Mr. Genuis.

4:55 p.m.

A/Commr James Malizia

But I believe, as well, in the terrorism plan in the—

4:55 p.m.

Director General, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Intelligence Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

David Drake

If I may say so, I think there is an additional issue. Those are general figures, but if you are questioning us specifically about Daesh.... That's a figure that covers a wider number of people—not just Daesh fighters, but al Shabaab and others.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Fair enough. I think the committee would be very interested in whatever information you can provide in that respect.

Because of time, I want to move on.

In response to my colleague's question, you had used the phrase “all options are on the table”. I want to probe that a bit. There have been some public statements from the Prime Minister saying that under no circumstances will Canada pay ransom, or at least, from what I understood in his statements, engage in negotiations that envision the possibility of ransom. I understand the phrase “all options are on the table” to be a position from that distinct position.

If we can clarify, is the position of the Government of Canada at present that all options are on the table with respect to resolving these situations?

4:55 p.m.

Director General, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Intelligence Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development

David Drake

My comments were specifically with regard to where the conversation was going at that point in terms of military intervention.

Of course, the government's position is clear about not paying ransom and not giving political compromises. That's very clear. In terms of how we deal with resolving the situation, all options are on the table, minus that, and that includes military operations if required. These are very serious matters that need to be discussed in great detail.

That was what I meant, and I apologize if I misled you.