Whither Anti-Terrorism

Dec 15, 2010

Canadians, generally, are concerned about the threat of ­terrorist activities. With the potential return of Omar Kadhr, the recent sentencing of a Toronto 18 member, and other events around the world, most realize that we are not immune to “home grown” terrorism. Executive Editor Clive Addy sat down with Senator Hugh Segal, Chair of the Special Committee of the Senate of Canada on Anti-­Terrorism, to provide FrontLine readers with a perspective on the developments in Canadian anti-terrorism legislation and international cooperation, and other key concerns and happenings within that Committee.

Senator Hugh Segal

Q: Senator, how is the Special Committee dealing with anti-terrorism, and what measures might help to reduce radicalization in our ­neo-Canadian communities?

We have now had five sessions devoted exclusively to “home-grown terrorism.” Security agencies and academics from across Canada have testified, and we will also hear from British academics who have advised the UK government on the terrorism issue. We heard from major police forces from Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto with respect to their activities in these areas. Two or three key points are emerging. The first is that we are on a learning curve as a western democratic society about “home-grown terrorism.” We seek to define what produces a shift to radicalization and then what produces another shift from radicalization to violence. That is the bad news. The good news is that much of the learning and lessons in this domain are being shared constructively between the British, American and Canadian intelligence authorities; between our various academics and police forces; and between our respective security services (CSIS and others). What that is producing now are profiles, not as to ethnicity, but profiles as to behaviour.

We have also heard from representatives of the Islamic community, including from one young Imam who has a multi-staged de-radicalization process which he has spread to 50 mosques across Canada. The community, as loyal Canadians in supporting the process, seems constructively engaged. I would say we are 100 yards ahead on this issue from the time when the Toronto 18 were arrested. We are certainly farther ahead than the British were when the Tube bombings occurred. Moreover, the sharing of information in volume and between numerous agencies is very intense and, as your readers would know, the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre, up and running now for some years, has quite a substantive network of both intelligence and threat assessment sources right across the country that is of immense assistance to our police, in a prophylactic way.

In Canada, traditionally, our activities have been divided between that of gathering evidence for the purposes of prosecution and putting people in jail through our justice system. And such intelligence gathering is about obtaining information on a prophylactic basis to prevent bad things from happening. Part of our challenge, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, is that, when you gather evidence for the purposes of court proceedings, you must disclose all information to counsel for the other side. When you gather intelligence on a prophylactic basis, that is for the purpose of planning activities (some of which fall in the category of “lawful disruption” to keep bad things from happening), the great challenge is in managing that balance, and in being able to share that information between agencies in support of a common goal. We are currently assessing these challenges.

Q:Mr. Justice Major’s recom­mendations in the Air India Inquiry indicate that much needs to be done about effective and timely anti-terrorist information sharing among authorities. What are the Committee’s view on this, and on the appointment of a National Security Advisor as coordinator and enforcer of timely collaboration among various agencies?

Let me share with you what the police forces of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto said to us at the most senior level just this week, and it was very, very clear. In their view, we lack a firm statutory base, namely a law that forces all organizations that come into the possession of important evidence to transfer it to some central processing point on a timely basis, and they are very much in favour of such a law.

When we asked specifically: “What do you feel about Mr. Justice Major’ s recommendation with respect to a Senior Security Czar with a statutory authority to have access to that data, and to make sure that it is shared on a timely basis?” All, including our friends from Quebec, were very much in support of the need for that kind of structure.

I have a very high regard for Madame Morin who is just finishing her term as the Senior Advisor in the National Security position in the Privy Council Office (a DM position in the PCO). She is, I believe, now going on to serve Canada at the World Bank. But, that position is not statutory, it is an appointment under the Executive Council Act, and while she was the “Clearing House” and put the information together to pass to the Clerk of the Privy Council (and she was double-hatted as deputy clerk with deputy clerk duties) for the Prime ­Minister, she did not have the statutory capacity to force organizations to share information with her or with each other, on a timely basis.

I am sure a lot of that sharing takes place now, because of a common will to do the right thing, but those big city police and security forces that appeared before us were very much of the view that there needs to be a statutory base for that sharing and for the role of the National Security Advisor.

Though the Committee has yet to opine on the matter, and it is one of the issues we will be considering. Testimony from these experts very strongly supports the proposition of a statutory piece for timely exchange of information and a statutory role for a National Security Advisor which is very consistent with Mr. Justice Major’s recommendation.

Q:Recent comments from your committee on the proposed Bill S-7, an Act to deter terrorism and to amend the State Immunity Act, legislation that would establish a list of terrorist states is most interesting. Can you provide our readers with the scope and progress of this proposed legislation?

The good news is that on 16 November, Bill S-7 received Senate approval – with the amendments that had been largely proposed by our Committee. That means that the government, as the original draft suggested, can no longer wait before producing a list of nations that are supporting terrorists around the world. They must now do that in a fixed period of time, but we no longer remove the right of a plaintiff to get compensation should the government of the day remove the defendant terrorism-sponsoring country that has been sued successfully under this act. If a state is on the list when the suit starts and is found culpable in an open court system, it is required to make the compensation payments ordered. In this sense, we have a very strong bill and it has now passed the Senate and is going to the House of Commons. I hope that it is dealt there with speed so that we get this in the courts. I believe there will be numerous plaintiffs relatively soon who will seek compensation from countries like Iran, and perhaps some others. I feel these persons will make substantial claims under our adversarial system.

I am glad that it has passed the Senate because it keeps the Prime Minister’s promise on this and now it is up to the House of Commons which, hopefully, will pass it expeditiously before they rise this June.

Q:Our national counter terrorist intelligence community has gained a lot in working with allies in and around the “question” of Afghanistan. Can you reflect on the recent change in government policy there and the potential need to maintain and improve upon the Canadian intelligence community’s skills and links as we change our involvement there and beyond?

First, let me say that I am delighted with the Prime Minister’s decision and that of the government to transition our Forces to a training mission. As you know, Canadians from the PPCLI deployed with the Americans in the first serious assaults on the ­Taliban heartland after 2001; then, when Kandahar needed stabilization and protection during the Loya Jurga’s and the ­elections process, Canadian troops were there doing a superb job. Later, when the most difficult part of that country had to be addressed because of a burgeoning insurgency in Kandahar province, Canadians deployed and held the fort with modest forces of about 2,300 to 2,800 in a way that gave NATO time to recalibrate.

We then sent our Task Force, headed by John Manley, to make solid recommendations about the task and our forces. Increased helicopter capacity and other encouraging improvements were put in place shortly after the Task Force returned.

The fact that the next strategic goal for the stabilization of Afghanistan, and the departure of NATO Forces in a timely way over the next few years, is the training of the Afghan Security Forces (both military and police plus continuing development activity), speaks to a whole and broad mission through which Canada will have ­discharged itself quite responsibly and ­effectively.

That being said, there is no question that exposure on the ground to different forces that represent Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and even war lords in Afghanistan has been of great value with respect to intelligence.

While our Committee never talks about operational matters, the notion that there may have been Special Forces and other security and intelligence forces engaged with our armed forces in Afghanistan, has provided a depth of expertise and collaboration as well as technical potential for our own intelligence operatives, military and otherwise. Outside of Canada, learnings are always of value.

We have large ex-patriot communities – a large North African Community, for example, in Montreal and a large Tamil community in Toronto, made up of hard working and valuable citizens. Within these communities, there are often new arrivals that are largely extremely hard-working and loyal Canadians, making a wonderful contribution to our society. But, there are, within those groups, a few individuals who are still connected to a “jihadi” or more direct action view of the world that is inconsistent with Canadian laws and values. It is clearly important for us to maintain, on a covert basis, the intelligence nets necessary to ensure that our security services and police forces have the capacity, not only to arrest those that may be conspiring in an “un-Canadian” approach to political problems, but also to lawfully disrupt them before they do.

It is general knowledge in the security community that the “Toronto 18” was not the first network that had been uncovered by security services through some measure of surveillance. The first networks were rendered useless through lawful disruption of their activities which saw those networks neutralized before harm could be done. So we need a mix of both.

We need a real intelligence capacity, and this is the time to be giving CSIS more resources. It is also important that sister organizations like the defence intelligence services, intelligence groups that act with provincial police authorities and those of the federal police force have a way to pull their information together to be capable of acting disruptively.

We have some very good examples of this in the preparation for the G20 and the G8 as well as the Olympics. There were four levels operating on a daily basis sharing information on potential areas of difficulties (for which response plans had to be made), and defining areas where prophylactic engagement was appropriate. It is important that we maintain those horizontal ­linkages as robustly as possible. If we fail to do so we will be letting down our guard, and I think Canadians have a right to expect that that is not what transpires – and that is the basis of our Committee.  

Executive Editor Clive Addy thanks Senator Hugh Segal for talking with FrontLine.
© FrontLine Security 2010