Bureaucrats have prepped Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale on how to talk to the public after tragedies, even prescribing “no comment” responses to hypothetical scenarios, according to ministerial briefing books. When they take office, Canada’s public safety ministers are offered a “ministerial handbook for responding to events.” The Hill Times obtained the most recent copy with an access-to-information request, part of a series of briefing books given to Mr. Goodale after he was sworn in as public safety minister early last November. It’s a look at the pragmatism of the department in delivering potentially disastrous news to Canadians. Replete with “possible statements from the minister,” the handbook is a treasure trove of pre-approved talking points dealing with everything from a terrorist attack on Canadian soil to the escape of a prisoner to a natural disaster on another continent. 'Heartfelt sympathies' The public safety minister is expected to provide “national leadership” across the government and co-ordinate a response to “events in the national interest,” in concert with Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion if the events occur outside of Canada. The handbook describes the jurisdiction of police forces and the Canada Border Services Agency. It details how the CBSA would liaise with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency on incidents affecting the Canada-United States border. The CBSA has the authority to initiate border measures such as screening travellers under the Quarantine Act—or to urgently process “aid and supplies transiting Canada towards the affected regions.” If a terrorist attack happens in Canada, Mr. Goodale is advised to tell the public “a tragic event has taken place in and our heartfelt sympathies are with those directly affected and their families.” He’s supposed to reassure the public that he’s in close contact with provincial and territorial officials, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and national security partners. For terrorist attacks in the US, Canada “is maintaining regular contact with our United States counterparts” and “prepared to assist the US in any way it can.” In other countries: “ There is no direct threat to Canada at this time,” but “no effort is being spared to assist Canadians in the affected area” and the government “is working around the clock.” What about natural disasters, you may ask? There are more “heartfelt sympathies” on offer for this “terrible in ” and encouragements that people in affected areas co-operate with local authorities. 'Very sad day for all Canadians' Incidents involving the agencies that fall under Public Safety Canada are also addressed in the handbook. For example, the minister is told he may be required to approve “significant redeployments” of RCMP from one province to another. If there’s a death involved in an RCMP-related incident, it’s suggested the minister call it a “tragic event” and say that “our thoughts and prayers” are with those affected. But, remember: “the government of Canada is committed to the safety of all Canadians,” and “the RCMP is taking the necessary actions to respond to the incident.” Should reporters ask for more: “given that at this point an investigation is underway, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.” Events involving the CBSA are diverse. They include, but are not limited to: train derailments, extreme weather causing bridge closures, airport incidents requiring flight diversions, the arrival of a traveller with avian influenza, the interception of Mad Cow-infected cattle, the interception of a terrorist and the discovery of an improvised explosive device. How should the minister react to such a diverse array of scenarios? By talking about government commitments to safety and “the necessary arrangements,” and “mitigating any threats to our shared security,” of course—with US-related events, “I have been in contact with my counterpart” and “both countries want to see the border reopened” and “we are working hard.” Talking points on incidents involving the Correctional Service Canada are categorized under: disturbance, hostage taking, escape of offender, health related incident and tragic incident involving an offender in the community. An unscientific analysis shows that talking points following the deaths of RCMP officers or CBSA or CSC officials are tinged with even more sorrow than those following terrorist attacks. Those call for “my most heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathy,” on this “very sad day for all Canadians.” “The death of a police officer,” the minister should say, “is a sobering reminder of the sacrifices and bravery of the men and women who serve each day to keep our communities safe...I realize that people are looking for answers surrounding this tragic incident, and that is what the investigations are for.” Blaney binders more focused on threat to Canada Similar language has already been used by Mr. Goodale in responding to terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, and the recent death by suicide of an RCMP officer near Parliament Hill. The wording isn’t exactly the same. The department does, after all, employ dozens of communications staffers (Embassy reported there were 81, as of last September). The tone of statements made by Mr. Goodale’s predecessor, Steven Blaney, are similar. But there are some specific differences between Mr. Goodale’s version of the handbook and the version offered to Mr. Blaney when he took over the file in 2013. The latter includes a section on how to respond to a major incident in Afghanistan, for example—it was written prior to the Canadian training mission ending in 2014. Moreover, lines about Canada’s susceptibility to terrorist attacks are included in Mr. Blaney’s book, but not Mr. Goodale’s—for instance, “Terrorism is a global phenomenon and Canada is not immune,” and “Canada and other countries face escalating cyber threats—these threats are real and continue to mature.” Could it be that departmental staffers read into a Liberal election campaign that focused on negating the “language of fear” employed by Conservative leaders?