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Security oversight committee should include Senators, MPs

By Conservative Senator Daniel Lang      

Government must allow security agencies to work without catering to politics and political correctness.

Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell and Conservative Senator Daniel Lang, the vice-chair and chair of the Senate National Security and Defence Committee last year, are seen speaking in March 2015. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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During the past three years that I have chaired the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, we have studied and reported on the threats to national security.
Our committee has noted that there remain areas for improvement in our national security strategy, particularly in the realms of: information sharing, review and accountability, and public communication and education. The government must address these to maintain the public confidence and the social licence our security organizations and government depend on to act.

After nine months of hearings and testimony from more than 100 witnesses, which included government agencies, security officials, academics, and members of various religious communities, including imams, we learned that:

  • By late 2014, authorities identified 318 radical Canadian jihadists: 93 of them were seeking to travel abroad, 145 were overseas, and 80 had returned. CSIS director Michel Coulombe confirmed a few months later that these numbers were increasing.
  • There were 683 identified cases of terrorist financing in five years, but to our knowledge no specific charges or prosecutions were initiated.
  • Foreign funds had entered Canada for religious-oriented programming despite their donors and recipients being linked to radicalization.
  • Eight Canadian charities had their charitable status revoked because of indirect or direct connections to terrorism—yet no members of their executive or staff faced criminal prosecution.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood and entities closely associated with it are a problem; the committee recommended that CSIS review it as a priority with the intent of determining whether it should be designated a terrorist entity.
  • Terrorist promotion and radicalization remain a concern in many areas of Canadian society, including at schools and in religious facilities.
  • Government agencies and political leaders conduct outreach to some disturbing individuals and organizations linked to terrorism and radicalization.
  • The government was failing to communicate clearly with Canadians about the scope of the terrorist threat.
  • Emergency preparedness at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels required enhancement, in view of the threat we face.

While our committee heard from informed sources about radicalization and terrorism, I would be remiss if I did not address the view in some of national security and political quarters that suggests jihadi terrorism is essentially caused by mental health and drug issues.

Jocelyn Bélanger, a professor of psychology who appeared before our committee, testified: “[t]o believe that radicalized individuals are crazy or are not playing with a full deck would be our first mistake in developing effective counter-terrorism strategies. The mental-instability hypothesis rather reflects our profound misunderstanding of the process of radicalization.”

Going forward, national security agencies and experts must begin to take seriously the issue of immigration and demographics.

Most Canadians are not aware that Canada welcomes more than 500,000 immigrants and temporary visa holders each year, the vast majority of whom do not face comprehensive security screening.

This has to be a serious concern, when we consider the reality that terrorists are freely moving across borders in Europe to carry out attacks in Paris and elsewhere on the continent.

In Canada, the RCMP has redeployed more than 600 officers to deal with terrorism cases. That means 600 officers are not doing other important police work. And as our committee was told, it takes 25 to 30 officers to monitor one radicalized jihadist. Resources must go up significantly across the board for the foreseeable future if we are to effectively manage the growing national security threats we face.
To ensure a comprehensive national security strategy is tailored to meet this problem, we should consider the following:

  1. Improve intragovernmental information-sharing and leverage the role of the national security adviser to ensure timely, accountable co-ordination.
  2. Provide sufficient resources or tools to allow CSIS and the RCMP to be able to effectively monitor low-level threats and targets, as well as higher-level threats.
  3. The government must communicate in a clear, quantitative, and unambiguous manner about the national security situation in Canada and abroad, including the true number of people directly or indirectly involved in supporting radicalization and terrorist activity.
  4. We must aggressively prosecute those who violate our national security law.  Public confidence relies on respect for the rule of law and the principle of equal application of law. The relatively administrative and secret character of peace bonds is no substitute for a public trial.
  5. As recommended by the Senate committee, we need to empower local police and prosecutors to proceed with terrorism cases, without requiring the attorney general’s consent, as is the case in other areas of criminal law.
  6. We need to work closely with municipalities, provinces, and territories to prevent radicalization.
  7. We need to enhance emergency preparedness, especially in relation to our critical national infrastructure.
  8. We need to fully screen for security the more than 500,000 immigrants and visa holders we receive each year.
  9. When it comes to earning the public’s confidence, we need to establish, by statute and otherwise, national security review bodies and systems that boost review capabilities and public accountability, especially in security domains where none currently exists, such as in relation to the Canada Border Services Agency.
  10. In line with public accountability, the proposed parliamentary committee on security and intelligence must not be seen as a partisan body dominated by government-friendly appointees. To address this possibility, I would recommend that it be a joint parliamentary committee where both houses of Parliament would be represented.

The government must allow our agencies to execute their responsibilities—whether identifying threats, laying charges, or prosecuting—without preoccupying themselves with accommodating aggressive lobbies or catering to politics and political correctness. If we were to do this, I am confident we would earn the public confidence necessary to address the threats to our national security. Canadians want and need us to succeed.

Yukon Conservative Senator Daniel Lang is chair of the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence.

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