Moving Forward at Public Safety

Dec 15, 2010

This year has been very productive at the Department of Public Safety, from both the legislative and policy implementation points of view. As well, there has been a greater degree of coordination and integration with our U.S. neighbour in many security domains.

Minister Vic Toews delivers a speech at the CentrePort Construction milestones event in Winnipeg, June 18, 2010.

From Border and Anti-terrorism initiatives, through the complex, much-needed, but often-delayed work of collaboration on Critical Infrastructure protection, to the addressing of the emerging risks of Cyber threats to our ­government and infrastructure, much has moved forward since last Fall. In an interview with Executive Editor Clive Addy, ­Minister Vic Toews addresses these issues and points out how they make Canadians safer and where the challenges remain.

Minister Toews, my first question deals with joint border initiatives with the U.S. that seem to have progressed quite well over the last year. Can you share with our readers your perspective on the scope, goals and recent achievements in Canada/U.S. cooperation along our common border as you see them, as well as the challenges that lie ahead?

It is interesting that you frame the question that way since, in the way that we did for NORAD a generation or two ago, we are approaching these issues from a continental perspective. Secretary Napolitano, the Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has been very forthcoming. I have known Secretary Napolitano since we were attorneys general in our respective state and provincial governments. I find her very open and easy to deal with, and very forthright in respect of the American expectation that security issues must be addressed if we want to see the mutually beneficial trade relationship continue.

Secretary Napolitano, the Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has been very  forthcoming . . . I find her very open and easy to deal with, and very forthright in respect of the American expectation that security issues must be addressed if we want to see the mutually beneficial trade relationship continue.

In order to pursue this, we have looked at a number of initiatives. We have taken the Shiprider program, from a pilot project of joint policing of our Great Lakes, and used it in the context of the Vancouver Olympics. We are now bringing it forward in legislation as a permanent program. It has been extremely successful. I see that project as a key determinant of how else we can cooperate along the borders. This could go to such measures as shared facilities, joint and integrated operations and all of those issues. As I have often said to the Americans: “If we can make it work on water, why can’t we do it on land as well?”

We’ve initiated discussions with them on such things as the border crossing at Cornwall. Given the difficulties encountered there, we have determined that there are only two real options. Either we shut down the border at that point, or we develop some joint border solution with the Americans. They have been extremely receptive and propose opening a joint facility at Massena New York. Those discussions are occurring right now. We believe that these sort of joint operations will ensure that borders continue to allow the free flow of legitimate goods, services and people, while still protecting us against criminal elements.

We have signed agreements, for example the recent Money Laundering Agreement, where we share information on the seizure of money and all other intelligence that goes along with that.

The other point that you raised is moving the threat further away from Canada. The challenge is in developing joint criteria that will assist us in identifying those threats and screening cargo and passenger planes or ships, so that once someone moves into our airspace or waters, the Americans also know that we have followed a rigorous process of screening that meets our mutual concerns and allows access or denial to both countries. It is vital that we both achieve that mutual satisfaction with the screening of either.

What has happened with the development of these and other initiatives with our neighbours, is that I have seen, already, a very different attitude of the Americans toward us on security. When we compare the reaction to us in respect of the 2009 Christmas Day bomber with the recent Yemeni situation, the improvement is astonishing. They were on the phone to us immediately; our operational people were apprised minute by minute; our jet fighters from DND were scrambled; we boarded the planes and worked hand in glove with the U.S. on this issue. Most importantly, there was no negative reaction at the ­border. Things did not slow down as had happened in the past when the Christmas Day bomber failed in that very serious attempt to blow up that passenger plane.

On the same issue, Transport Canada initiated certain measures as a result of the Yemeni situation, such as the banning of some cargo emanating from Yemen, and we have taken other steps that essentially parallel those of the U.S.

This is important and emphasizes my point that we want to walk closely with the Americans and mirror their actions and methods so they can be confident that we, like they, take these security issues very seriously. There is more work ahead.

On the issue of Critical Infras­truc­ture security, I applaud the initiative with U.S. Secretary Napolitano and the Critical Infrastructure Action Plan 2010 resulting in an Emergency Management Consultative Group. This is a great step forward, and coherent with the 2009 Critical Infrastructure Strategy you released in late 2009, entitled Build Partnerships. Milestones have been set over the next 3 years, but could you share with us your sense of the working relationship with your Homeland Security counter­part? What are the key mutual challenges – with respect to industry and the provinces/states – to make this a truly useful and credible strategy?

What we have done with the Americans in signing this document on a political critical infrastructure agreement, is essentially to extend the relationship that the federal government has had over the past decade and continues to develop with the provinces, municipal authorities, and private industry, which led to the announcement in May 2010. We now have a coordinated program across Canada in order to protect our Critical Infrastructure. So, essentially, when we signed on with the U.S. on this agreement, we are applying the same principles that we apply with the provinces, municipalities and businesses here in Canada. We identify sectors jointly, we develop plans to help prevent an accident from becoming a disaster, assess and address risks – in all domains of Critical Infrastructure. The approach then is a very integrated one in identifying risks and developing strategies to deal with possible interruptions in critical infrastructure, be they in pipelines, power or other sectors.

On the matter that you mentioned of a National Security Advisor as proposed by Mr. Justice Major in the Air India Inquiry, might I first say that I am quite pleased with the appointment of Mr. Stephen Rigby to be the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister. He was, of course, the President of the CBSA and has just moved into this new appointment. I am impressed with his ability and he has worked very closely with me recently in terms of working with the Americans to identify security risks in the context of the American Border Services and our own CBSA. On the matter of whether we need take any legislative steps beyond the legislation that presently exists, I am not sure that will necessarily be crucial. At this point, I have not seen any great demand for that type of legislation.

Following the recent visit of the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defence, William J. Lynn, on the issue of cyber security, as well as your recent visit with DHS Secretary Napolitano, and the fact your department and other agencies recently partook in U.S. Exercise Cyber War III, what challenges do you see for Cyber Security?

We are making pretty significant progress in this particular national security strategy. This is something that we, as technologically advanced nations, need to address. One of the things that became very clear to me in my discussions with the Americans was just how very vulnerable we are, as technologically dependent nations, to that type of threat of Cyber War. To this end, I recommend Richard Clark’s Cyber Wars. It is a great book from a layman’s point of view as to how an economy can be crippled in cyber space and even worse. That was very helpful to my understanding the scope of challenges we face. Take for example the recent attack on the Iranian nuclear facility where it was essentially disabled and set back 2 or 3 years by cyber means. I do not want to go into any details but it indicates how even the most sophisticated and powerful weapons and facilities are vulnerable and at risk to cyber attack. Add to this the difficulty in determining just who the attacker is. Thus we need and have a national level strategy. But on the local and individual level, the internet has also become an invaluable tool to so much of our industrial, government, social and economic life. So on a national level, we will invest in securing government of Canada systems as well as partnering with other governments and industry to ensure that we protect our vital systems and infrastructure. We also will be boosting education at the individual level to ensure citizens keep their personal information safe.

There are concerns about how our critical infrastructure systems have developed and are now vulnerable to cyber manipulation and attack. Our strategy is intended to address the ways and means to tighten up our controls. For example, is it necessary to have so many portals as points of entry into government information and critical industry systems? Should we be ­limiting it since the greater the number of portals, the greater our vulnerability to attacks? How many are really needed and how do we buttress these? That is one of many governmental system challenges.

Cyber security is a very complex and rapidly evolving realm that is with us daily. The threats are personal, structural, economic, criminal, and military. We are working on all.  

Executive Editor Clive Addy thanks Minister Vic Toews for talking with FrontLine.
© FrontLine Security 2011