Canada Strong and Free? Perhaps!
In the wake of the attack on Parliament and the shooting of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, the government is calling for increased powers for law enforcement and security organizations. Beyond introducing legislation to update the CSIS Act which is long overdue; the government is also hinting at new legislation to provide for things like preventative arrest and indeterminate preventative detention.
Some, who are already concerned with the growing intrusion of government in our lives, are resistant to giving even more power to government agencies. They see it as the continuing erosion of our constitutional rights guaranteed to us under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The other side of the argument, supported by more than a few Canadians, is that current laws do not meet the evolving world in which we live and that law enforcement and intelligence agencies need new powers to better enable them to track and identify potential national security threats. Many of them believe that it may be necessary for Canadians to accept some measure of restriction on our current rights and freedoms.
Both arguments have merit.
My personal opinion is that there is no law or government power that can guarantee absolute security from those who would do us harm. This was underscored just a few weeks ago when the security of the White House, arguably one of the most heavily guarded buildings in North America, was breached by a lone gunman who managed to not only scale the fence but to gain entrance with a loaded gun.
I believe that trading away what defines us as Canadians in the pursuit of the unobtainable is no small victory for terrorists. Even if they don’t kill us but are successful at causing us to live in fear to the point that we change how we live – they win by taking from us the very freedom that defines us as a people.
Following the shootings, the Defense Department issued an advisory to military personnel to avoid wearing their uniforms in public. Is that really the message we want to send to terrorists? Do we really want them to celebrate that they have so frightened us that our military are afraid to publicly wear their uniforms in their own country?
That strikes me to be more than just a little like telling women to dress modestly lest they be raped or assaulted.
We are a free and open society. We have the right to speak our minds, to believe what we will, to come and go as we please and to privacy from government surveillance. We are a nation of laws that imprisons people for what that have been convicted of doing; not for what we think they might do.
I believe that if we are going to give up or curtail any of our constitutional rights and freedoms, there had better be some serious checks and balances put in place to protect us as much from our government as from our enemies.
Still, I believe it is important to have the discussion and that both sides of the debate should be listened to and their opinions considered before decisions are made. Making serious decisions in the immediate aftermath of a crisis is reactive thinking which often leads to careless decisions. Canadians and their government need to discuss this publicly in a reasoned and thoughtful manner before any changes are made.
It should start with a thorough review of just what security measures are currently in place and just what powers law enforcement already has but which are not being effectively implemented or fully available due to lack of resources.
Consider the issue of security at typical government facilities for example.
Ottawa, as the seat of Canada’s national government, is littered with government buildings and departments. For the most part, they are protected by Commissionaires – unarmed, often elderly, security guards; many of whom have retired from their original careers.
In most cases, Canada’s government buildings receive only slightly more security than a shopping mall.
The primary job of the Commissionaires is to prevent unauthorized access to government departments. They are stationed, usually just inside the entrance to the building where they ask for identification and who you are coming to see. After having you sign in on a sheet of paper usually attached to a clipboard, they then telephone who your meeting to come and escort you to wherever you are going. There are no metal detectors, seldom video surveillance cameras and almost never an armed guard.
It’s all so Canadian – so terribly polite and reasonable but is it really security? I went through more rigorous security to gain entrance to the Miami Herald’s office in Florida.
My father was in the military police for twenty-five years stationed in various places across Canada and overseas, including Korea during the war. He used to say that “a lock only keeps out an honest man” and a security guard at the entrance isn’t much more than a cheap lock.
If someone like Zehaf Bibeau wants to gain access to most government buildings, he isn’t going to have much difficulty. A clipboard and a sign-in protocol aren’t much defense against a knife or a gun.
The fact is that while it may be called a security protocol, it really isn’t and was never designed to protect government employees or facilities from attack. It is the illusion of security that was primarily designed to keep the general public from entering and wandering around.
I’m not criticizing the Commissionaires or the other unarmed security personnel the government has in place. They take their responsibilities seriously as we were reminded last Wednesday on Parliament Hill. An unarmed security guard tried to stop Bibeau at the entrance, going so far as to grab the barrel of Bibeau’s gun. The guard was shot in the leg which reveals more than just a little courage and dedication to the job.
The questions are whether or not it is reasonable to have unarmed, often elderly security guards protecting government buildings. Does that provide sufficient protection from attack and is it reasonable for them to face possible life-threatening circumstances unarmed and untrained for those situations?
It isn’t the men and women assigned to guard the entrances of government facilities who should be criticized or held accountable; it is the lax and complacent attitude about security that pervades government thinking.
Once again, we are in a situation where the government is scrambling to catch up to events after the fact.
Canada has been hit three times by Chinese cyber attacks in the past couple of years. You would think that one should have been sufficient to drive government to provide increased diligence and sufficient funding for resources to prevent further successful attacks.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.
Despite repeated warnings from former Auditor General Sheila Fraser and her successor, about the state of government IT systems, the government has not only not provided the funds required, it has cut government spending to all departments by upwards of 10% including more than $3 billion from the National Defense budget.
In our rush to support the illusion of fiscal prudence, we have so reduced government and defense spending that our government’s IT systems are as vulnerable and open to attack as Parliament Hill was last week. The Canadian military has mothballed 50% of its truck fleet for lack of funds to properly maintain them. It has delayed indefinitely the procurement of new fighter aircraft that are now more than a decade beyond their intended shelf-life and has Canadian Rangers patrolling the Arctic with WWII era bolt-action rifles for which we can no longer obtain parts to maintain.
How do those decisions affect our national security? With our commitments to NATO and to the coalition in Iraq, we now have a mere 22 CF-18s patrolling Canada’s extensive air space.
It seems incongruous to me that the same government that has been somewhat parsimonious when it comes to defense and security funding is at the same time talking tax breaks and entitlements for various special interest groups even as it is sending Canadian forces to war.
That is a dichotomy that doesn’t quite compute for me.
The Heads of CSIS and the RCMP both appeared before a Commons security committee just a few weeks ago and both stated unequivocally that it was not more power they required but more resources. To provide effective security and intelligence for the safety of this country, more funding is needed. The same argument can be made for our military.
We can discuss and alter security protocols all we like but if government is unwilling to properly and fully fund those protocols, we’re no further ahead. If we start making changes without first identifying where the weaknesses are in our current systems, then we are merely setting ourselves up for failure with the illusion of safety.
In recent years, we have seen many governments react to similar threats by imposing new laws and reducing constitutional freedoms. Britain isn’t any safer now than it was before the new draconian laws it put in place and neither are other countries. In the end, it is merely honest citizens who obey those laws or whose rights and freedoms are curtailed by law enforcement.
It is no better than the wasting of money on a gun registry that only affects responsible gun owners rather than committing the money to combating illegal gun crime.
Our political leaders have all stated eloquently that Canadians will not be intimidated in the aftermath of last week’s attack. Either they believe we will not be intimidated into quick, knee-jerk reactions or they don’t and they will.
Rather than rushing to expand government power that may infringe the very rights and freedoms that make Canada the nation it is; our leaders need to review and assess what powers it currently has and how effectively those powers are being used. I’m not encouraged to believe that more power is needed after it was revealed that one of last week assailants was on a watch list but not being watched and the other, although known to law enforcement, had not been identified as a security threat.
I’m not blaming law enforcement or CSIS. Lone wolves are very difficult to identify before they act. We see it all too often from mass shootings like Sandy Hook and Columbine to attacks like those last week. But I do believe that it is necessary to first fix what may be broken before considering what else may be needed.
I also believe that it is time for government to commit sufficient funding and other resources to effectively combat the threats we face rather than making promises about income splitting and expanding tax credits for fitness programs.
In other words, it is time for our political leaders to lead rather than rushing to catch up after the fact with yet more poorly conceived reaction.
Last week, Canadians demonstrated the courage and unity that has so often defined Canada and what we are as a people in times of great challenge and crisis. It would be a shame if we lost sight of that now as we consider how best to provide for our national security and collective safety.
It would be an even greater shame if we allowed our political leaders to lose sight of who and what we are in their rush to appear to be doing something.
Will Canada remain strong and free? Perhaps but it will fall to us to decide whether or not fear will cause us to sacrifice the very things that make us the people we are.
© 2014 Maggie’s Bear
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