We Stand On Guard For Thee
In March 2004, in the wake of the Adscam scandal, Auditor General Sheila Fraser released another damning report, this one on Ottawa’s inaction on addressing national security concerns. She highlighted the vulnerability of Canada’s ports and airports to terrorist attacks, especially with regard to those who work there. She found that 5.5 percent of a sample of airport employees had possible criminal connections, a flag for national security concerns. If extrapolated to the entire airport workforce, there would be 4,500 employees with possible criminal connections Ã‚ the implications being that employees are not being properly screened, and those with criminal connections may also be tied to terrorist groups.
Senator Kenny’s Security and Defence committee has released several reports over the last three years raising concerns about the country’s lack of preparedness for terrorist attacks. In December 2004, Kenny released the 2005 edition of the Canadian Security Guide Book, which highlighted the same concerns Fraser drew attention to: improperly guarded and underguarded borders, and vulnerable ports and airports. In one example, he noted that Canada’s ports of entry were jeopardized by the disappearance of 1,127 uniforms or uniform items belonging to Canadian airport screeners over a nine-month period, including 91 security badges.
Kenny’s committee also alleges that the government is “cutting corners on intelligence.” This seems to confirm Fraser’s findings that nearly $9 billion in anti-terrorism money is not ending up where it is supposed to go, and that there are intelligence gaps resulting from fiscal mismanagement and oversight confusion. Kenny says the problem is not merely money but training; he said it can take years to properly train intelligence officers, but that there is no commitment to train a sufficient number of analysts.
Fraser’s report also found other problems with the government’s response to 9-11. Fraser said the official watch lists of criminals and terrorists were outdated, and that such information was not being shared among departments so that, for instance, the list of 25,000 lost and stolen passports each year is given to front-line border officers. She concluded, “These matters are serious and need to be addressed.”
Juxtaposed against that summary of continuing Canadian sluggishness in addressing national security and internal terrorist groups, a story from the Montreal Gazette;
When an alert was sent to Canadian customs agents in Quebec warning of an “armed and dangerous” suspect, some 50 employees walked off the job for four hours at about 15 of 44 border crossings just before 9 a.m. yesterday.
…the protesting agents were exercising their right under the Canada Labour Code to withdraw services if they feel their life or health is threatened.
“We’re not armed, we’re not going to be a target,” said Jean-Pierre Fortin, a union spokesperson. The union wants the federal government to supply border agents with sidearms. Ottawa says the agents’ bulletproof vests, telescopic batons and pepper spray are sufficient.
Nor are they equipped with chase vehicles. As a result, about 1500 vehicles “blew across the border” last year with impunity, as the only recourse for Customs officials is to place a call to the nearest RCMP detachment – which in many parts of the country, are being closed.