Jan 12, 2016

The Liberal government and national security

The new Liberal government sure has made some rapid changes to the practices of the previous Conservative government.  The long-form census  has been restored.  Scientists have been unmuzzled.  And there is a sense, as stated by the PM himself, that “Canada is back”, meaning that the ideas and values most often associated with the majority of Canadians will be brought to the fore again.  Most people seem happy with all this.  I am too.

There is one other development that interests me.  Actually, two developments.  The Liberal government is bent on creating Parliamentary oversight of CSIS and other security agencies, bringing Canada in line with most of its major allies, and this is probably – if done right – a good thing.  Secondly, the Liberal government wants to revisit and boost Canada’s CVE (countering violent extremism, a.k.a. counter radicalisation) efforts.  Again, a good thing if done right.

So, herewith my 100% unsolicited advice for the new government on these issues:

a) whatever model is chosen it has to be a made in Canada one.  I see that the Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, is visiting some of our Allies to see how they do things.  This is a good start, but in the end we have to come up with our own solution. We can certainly learn, both the good and the bad, from what others have done.  Yet we have this Canadian tendency to defer to others (“let’s just do what the US is doing!”).  I saw it so many times when I worked for the federal government.  Maybe it’s good ol’ Canadian deference, I don’t know.  But it has to stop.  We have good people and good ideas too.

b) we need to build on what we already have started.  Especially on the CVE front, Public Safety Canada – specifically the Citizen Engagement section – had a wonderfully successful outreach programme in place that was paying off huge dividends before some – ahem, unfortunate – government-led incidents brought it to a standstill.  I know that there are community leaders across Canada who want to restart this.  Not only was it successful here but other countries had expressed interest in learning from us how to do CVE.  Let us use this as our new jumping off point.

c) we need to inform Canadians.  Yes there are aspects to security intelligence that cannot be disclosed, but regular messaging from the government, and preferably from the heads of CSIS and the RCMP, will serve to keep Canadians in the loop on the nature of the threat we face and avoid the vacuum that currently exists and which is filled by those with little insight or knowledge of what is happening.

d) we need to hear from Canadians at all levels: federal, provincial, territorial, first nations, municipal and average Joes and Jills.  There are some amazing efforts currently in force at the city police level with respect to early intervention – Calgary Police’s Redirect programme and Toronto Police’s Focus Rexdale are but two examples – that are working and should be picked up on.  The solutions we need often begin locally so we need to bring in local, knowledgeable partners.  Let us also ask Canadians what they think.  Perhaps another public Parliamentary set of hearings is warranted.

There.  That’s my two-cents’ worth.  Have at ‘er.  At the end of the day we can do this and do this well.  We already have world class security intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Let’s match that when we create oversight and CVE capability.