Binkley - Canada's blind spot


Harper government tough on criminals, what about spies?

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

The Harper government makes lots of noise about building more prisons and reducing the coddling of lawbreakers. It even has a hunt on for war criminals hiding out in Canada. Yet, there’s no sign it’s dealing with a much greater threat to the country’s prosperity and safety from foreign espionage.

Remember a year ago when Richard Fadden, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Network, was in hot water in the media at least for raising the spectre of foreign agents influencing Canadian politicians and officials.

Well the spies haven’t gone away, says Michel Juneau-Katsuya, President of the Northgate Group, a firm that advises businesses on protecting themselves from attempts to steal their proprietary information. Most companies don’t pay near enough attention to the issue until it is way too late, he notes.

Fadden’s warning that spies are nurturing relations with politicians and bureaucrats across the country for the sole purpose of gaining access to confidential information is, if anything, not alarmist enough, Juneau-Katsuya adds.

“Public Safety is just sitting on its hands,” he said recently in Ottawa. Not all the spying comes from countries Canadians might consider to be unfriendly, he warns.

Canada’s small population makes it hard to put enough resources into security and foiling espionage, he continues. That means the government has to make sure all its police and security agencies are fully cooperating and working with like minded organizations in other countries. That would be a good place for the Harper government to start. Of course, blowing up the gun registry is hardly a good way to foster cooperation.

Juneau-Katsuya is especially supportive of the proposed North American security perimeter that Canadaand the United Statesare studying. “The emphasis has to be on improving security.”

The country also needs to make immigrants feel welcome in Canada, he notes. It also has to play close attention to anyone supporting terrorist groups such as several young Canadian men who have to Pakistanor Somaliato join radical terrorist groups. He noted there were 18 bombings in Canadain the last five years that were terrorist acts.

Security isn’t just keeping some would be bomber away from a crowded airport terminal or train station, he points out. It’s also about protecting companies and governments from losing secrets to foreign spies. “We don’t talk about it enough; we need to pay more attention to it.”

The loss of intellectual property and secrets to foreign operatives or criminals could be costing Canada$25 billion a year, he noted. The situation is just as bad proportionately in the United States.

For now, making money is more attractive to spies than blowing up critical infrastructure “although they might get to that some day,” he added.

It says a lot about the dismal atmosphere of the last Parliament that neither the MPs nor Senators made any attempt to bring Fadden before a committee to explain his comments or to investigate the espionage issue. If it wasn’t for the unstinting efforts of Senator Colin Kenny, the issue would be completely invisible.

To refresh the reader’s memory, Fadden said Canadians must start taking the threat of terrorism and spies seriously.

In a speech about 18 months ago, he said, “Debates around intelligence in Canadaare stuck in the past.  In order to protect the security of Canada … we have to move out of our comfort zones and look squarely to the future.

“For a G-8 member and important middle power with a long history of positive engagement in the world, debate about national security in Canadais, for the most part, fairly sparse,” he said. “Our elites tend to ignore it altogether. And when we do engage in debate on the subject, it is often stuck in concepts that simply don’t reflect contemporary realities.”

Warming to his theme, Fadden went on. “Our elites tend to avert their eyes, and media tend to give what little coverage they grant on this subject to groups that seem to feel that our charm and the Maple Leaf on our backpacks are all that we need to protect us.

“We have a serious blind spot as a country. Many of our opinion leaders have come to see the fight against terrorism not as defending democracy and our values, but as attacking them. Almost any attempt to fight terrorism by the government is portrayed as an overreaction or an assault on liberty. It is a particular position, given that terrorism is the ultimate attack on liberties. If terrorists believe in anything, it is nihilism and death, and they are truly equal opportunity oppressors.

“They operate across cultures and feed on hate and doubt. They are loyal to no one, embrace no national community, and play by none of the carefully nurtured rules or social conventions that nation states respect. Terrorists are therefore the ultimate enemies of a liberal democratic order and the human rights that give that order its beating heart.

“So why then, I ask, are those accused of terrorist offences often portrayed in media as quasi-folk heroes, despite the harsh statements of numerous judges? … To some members of civil society, there is a certain romance to this. This loose partnership of single-issue NGOs, advocacy journalists and lawyers has succeeded, to a certain extent, in forging a positive public image for anyone accused of terrorist links or charges.”

Fadden said he wanted a more balanced debate on terrorists. “Terrorism is often portrayed not as a real crime, but as a political one. Terror is downgraded to a form of dissent, an act of revolutionary charm rather than a criminal code offence and a violation of international human rights standards. … Perhaps this has roots in the belief that Canadais somehow immune from terror, and therefore can’t really have any terrorist conspiracies. Furthermore, it seems that, unless a bomb explodes or a murder is committed in the name of terrorism, it seems like the “mere” act of plotting to commit a terrorist act, or financing terrorist groups, or traveling abroad to train in terrorist camps are not considered criminal acts, or at the very least, reprehensible activities.

“The debate about national security in Canada, but also in other countries, has often been unsatisfying because it is shackled to one rigid but persistent construct -- that security and human rights are always in opposition, that they are a balancing act of sorts.

“Terrorists, whatever else they may be, are not couch potatoes. They are part of this great global flux we all live in. Ideas, money, products and people – they all move. CSIS therefore has to be more mobile to defend Canadaagainst threats. That is the simple global reality we face.

“Terrorism is still the most important threat we face. This is not an existential threat to Canada, but it is a real threat to us and to our allies.”

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