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Evidence of meeting #44 for Public Safety and National Security in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was terrorist.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

John Davies  Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Michael MacDonald  Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

There's no statement, so I'll close.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

All right, Mr. Scott, you have 10 seconds left.

We'll go back to the government side again. Ms. Young, you have five minutes.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

I want to thank you for being here today and for your answers.

Given all our experience—and this has been widely reported—are there some strategic drivers changing the terrorist threat in Canada domestically or internationally?

4:45 p.m.

Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Michael MacDonald

I can start off, and maybe I'll turn to Mr. Davies.

I think you've hit on a very important point about the nature of terrorism itself and the terrorist threat. The whole objective of terrorists is to undertake their activities to achieve their objective. They constantly change. Every effort that a country or a coalition of countries undertakes is exactly what the terrorist entity themselves look for to change and adapt to. Their ultimate goal is to achieve whatever it is they're trying to achieve, and they'll use whatever means, barbaric or not, to achieve that. A suicide bomber is a great example of how barbaric it can be at times and how dedicated people are.

The strategic drivers ebb and flow through time, with how robust the group is, how well-financed it is, how well-armed it is, and where it is operating. Do they have safe havens to operate elsewhere? Frankly, the pressure that the international community may be putting on the group will also change its nature. Always anticipating that is the challenge back home for intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies. Again, that speaks right to the “prevent” and “deny” pillars in the strategy.

4:50 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

The main strategic driver noted in the strategy is globalization and just how quickly interconnections are being built across the globe, both through social media and technology from one perspective, but also in terms of financing networks. I think we would say this is a big aspect of it. Whether we're talking about procurement-led networks or financing procurements, these things are changing all the time, and it's up to us to keep up with those trends, whether they involve new techniques, new policies, or legislation, to make sure things are constantly up to date.

We were in the Senate yesterday on Bill S-9 on nuclear terrorism, and there was the same kind of discussion around counterproliferation as the one we're having around counterterrorism. There is a strong interest by certain groups to keep ahead of the curve, to expose weaknesses and so on.

Globalization and the rapidity with which individuals can connect to each other and share information and techniques and so on is a big challenge.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

Given Canada's place in the world and, as you say, the rapid globalization of the world—and this is obviously a new document and a new initiative and seems to be quite comprehensive—are there any things from a policy or operations perspective that we need also need to be looking at 10 or 20 years down the road?

4:50 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

That's a good question. I think the one thing we can say with certainty is that what we think of as the threat today will not be the threat 10 or 20 years from now. As policy-makers, I think we're always of the view that nothing is static. Ten years ago, certainly perhaps pre-9/11, the way we looked at threats was a lot different from the way we do today. We assume that 10 years from now things will be very different, so the structure of the security and intelligence community and the architecture and the governance around it will perhaps also have to adapt as the threat evolves.

It's difficult going out 10 years. I think we tend to go out three to five years. Once you get past that, uncertainty dominates for sure.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Wai Young Conservative Vancouver South, BC

We've seen that there are terrorist groups operating in Canada. We've certainly heard about them as well.

Can you give a few examples of these groups and how effective our work—and your work obviously—has been to counter and mitigate their impact?

4:50 p.m.

Director General, National Security Operations Directorate, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Michael MacDonald

Very briefly, I think for example we talked about listing terrorist entities and about how freezing their assets in order to deny them funding is crucial. I don't have the exact number off the top of my head, but I think that somewhere close to a quarter of a million dollars is currently frozen in Canadian financial institutions. Those entities are all from the list that's created under the Criminal Code by the minister or from any other UN sanction lists explicitly for criminal.... We have some court cases in Canada to attack those and prosecute those who commit terrorist offences.

Canada is a target for terrorism. As John has mentioned, the threat environment changes, so the operation of certain terrorist groups also changes, meaning that their presence in or links to Canada may change over time. Again, it's the constant ebbing and flowing, the changing dimension, the idea that nothing is static in the environment.

I think those are two concrete examples.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. MacDonald.

We'll go to Mr. Scarpaleggia, please, for five minutes, and then back to—

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Thank you very much, Chair.

In a word, what is really different about this strategy that departs from a previous approach?

Obviously, we haven't been sitting idly by since 2001. There's been coordination. The idea that we suddenly discovered coordination would be wrong. Did we somehow wake up recently and say, “Well, you know, we haven't been doing this. We should be doing that”?

Really, what is different about this strategy? Is it just a consolidation of existing practice with some looking into the future and planning steps that need to be taken in the future? What really is the crux of this?

4:55 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

That's a fair question. I think it's the first time an all-of-government view of the threats facing Canada and Canadians has been put in one place. It's also the first time that the core principles driving the security intelligence community have been put in one place, which I think is an important achievement. Perhaps when you read it you just take it for granted, but getting 12 to 15 members of the security intelligence community to put in one place the principles that we will abide by—

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Basically, this really is a pulling together in Public Safety....

4:55 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

It's a pulling together of approaches for the government, on behalf of the government.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Yes, on behalf of the government.

4:55 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

Also, when you look at the conceptual framework, it's the first time we've put in one place organizing principles for ourselves as a way to help set priorities going forward.

In one sense, yes, it's pulling together things that have existed for some time. Certainly in the national security world, most Canadians aren't completely aware of all the laws and institutions that exist—and that was an important aspect—and what the threat is to them and also to our allies. Many of our allies have similar kinds of things. Theirs are not exactly like this strategy, but they are similar. It's a very important tool for us to have something like this that we can actually hand over and say....

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

How long has this consolidation, if you will, of government resources been going on? Is this plan the culmination of a five-year process or a 10-year process, beginning with 2001?

4:55 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

What you have before you took about a year and a half to pull together. I don't know how you march backwards from there and say what was there and what wasn't. But it was, in terms of an effort, an all-government effort. It took about a year and a half to put together.

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Are you operating on a high level of—not abstraction, but of governance and coordination? Or are you really getting into the nitty-gritty of things, such as the protection of our water infrastructure, for example?

I was at a conference a year and a half ago. There was an expert from England who had secured, against the threat of terrorism or just simple mischief, all the water filtration plants in England. He had contracts in other countries. He told me point blank that they're just not there yet.

Are you aware of that aspect of things, as well? Are you also aware of airport security issues? In 2005 I had the opportunity to go to Israel with the Liberal Minister of Transport to investigate security in the transportation system—airports, ports, and buses.

Has that fed into this strategy? Has all that intelligence fed into this strategy? Are you dealing with those kinds of issues?

4:55 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

Maybe I will start, and Mike can weigh in.

On critical infrastructure, such as water systems and so on, there is a plan, a critical infrastructure plan, for Canada. You're seeing only half of the national security branch from Public Safety. The other components are cyber security and critical infrastructure. There's quite a detailed plan at the federal level for working with the provinces to protect critical infrastructure. There are also, in the Beyond the Border agreement, arrangements and agreements to work more with the U.S. on that issue.

On the issue of aviation security, Public Safety, my group in particular, leads the passenger protect program. We have a big role in this area of aviation security, obviously with the Department of Transport, which is more the front-line operator in managing security.

It's hard to write everything in one strategy. A lot of these specific things cascade down. We could talk afterwards.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Davies.

You'll have to get it into another question, Mr. MacDonald, somehow.

We'll move to Mr. Goguen, please, for five minutes.

June 5th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Conservative Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The exchange of information between partners is one of the key elements of the strategy, nationally and internationally. I would like to go back to one of Mr. Rousseau's comments. He said that the aboriginal groups who were protesting peacefully were being targeted and he asked why so many resources were being devoted to that. You said that the target was not aboriginal groups but illegal activities.

As I recall, we had the October crisis in the 1970s. That was before CSIS was established. The target was not the people of Quebec, but the illegal activities of the FLQ. Subsequent to the October crisis, we had the three-volume MacDonald Commission report that looked into certain activities of the RCMP and into public safety. We found out that various government bodies were exchanging a huge amount of information with no regard for people's privacy. Then we had the CSIS Act that made some exchanges of information legal.

What steps are presently taken to facilitate the legitimate exchange of information between various government bodies? Let's start at the national level.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

Thank you, Mr. Goguen.

Mr. Davies.

5 p.m.

Director General, National Security Policy, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

John Davies

One aspect of exchanging information is day-to-day contact. There's a lot of discussion among the operators, the front line, to share information. In terms of, say, the relationship between the RCMP and the service, there are a lot of different, newer protocols to ensure they work well together, that they de-conflict on issues and activities. The RCMP leads are a big step forward with regard to integrated national enforcement teams.

One of the issues that was noted as a priority in the Air India action plan was the improvement of domestic information sharing among federal departments. The concern is that the ability to lawfully share information that is relevant to national security is mitigated through a patchwork of legislation, and so on, which creates a risk aversion to sharing. One of the issues the government is committed to look at in that action plan is how to improve that, to improve the culture of risk aversion to sharing, to manage decisions and talk to lawyers, to get to a bit more of a presumption of sharing, where everyone is comfortable with a lawful basis to share. So that's certainly something we want to do.

There's a commitment in the Beyond the Border action plan to work more with our U.S. counterparts on sharing information. The first step there is understanding each other's privacy regimes, the Constitution and the charter, in sharing and being clear on what is a lawful basis for the security agencies to share.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Kevin Sorenson

You have two minutes left.