Challenges of Maritime Security in Canada

Dec 15, 2007

Few post 9/11 security challenges are as daunting as the one facing Canada when it considers what is generically described as maritime security. The sheer size of the Canadian maritime environment is mind numbing. The coastline alone, including Newfoundland and PEI, is almost 72,000 kilometers long with frontage on the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Add in the hundreds of islands and that coastline more than triples. Don’t forget what may be the greatest of all our maritime security challenges, a 3,800km inland coastal border with an increasingly nervous and security conscious neighbour. With all components included, Canada has the largest coastline in the world.

Halifax Harbour.

Modern maritime security is not just about guarding coastlines. It includes the protection of ocean and inland ports that are a key component of Canada’s trade-based economy, plus other critical infrastructure, like nuclear power plants, that have a maritime location.

The post 9/11 refocus of the priorities of maritime security has not ­eliminated traditional security functions such as facilitating safe vessel passage, search and rescue, ice breaking and inland waterway and coastal water traffic enforcement.

Given the variety of maritime functions, it is really not surprising, that no single entity has responsibility for maritime security. It is equally undeniable, that the diffusion of responsibility for maritime security in Canada and the outright gaps in responsibility are significant obstacles to finding solutions to these complex issues. The diverse and incomplete maritime security mandates of the many and varied  agencies involved are briefly described below and, were they static, they would be cause for significant concern. Fortunately, some integration of operations and institutional re-organization has occurred that gives cause for cautious optimism that enhanced maritime security is indeed looming on the horizon ahead.

Who Are the Security Players in Canada?   
One would be tempted to think, given the name, that the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) would be a leading entity in ­maritime security but, as the most recent Senate Committee on National Security and Defense wryly noted in a March 2007 Report, “the Coast Guard does some things extremely well, but it does not guard our coasts.” Lacking full law enforcement status, the Coast Guard has been relegated to ­traditional vessel safety functions including supplying marine transport to the RCMP who have the (relatively) full enforcement mandate, yet neither the resources nor the equipment to discharge it in a maritime environment. The CCG is housed within the Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans as a separate Agency having been transferred there in the mid 90’s from the Department of Transport.

Fisheries and Oceans is also home to a special task-focused marine enforcement group of Fisheries Officers who do have full enforcement powers and who, unlike Coast Guard officers, are armed for that purpose. The Department also contracts with the private sector for reconnaissance flights on both the east and west coasts which has some vessel tracking and intelligence value. Its lack of inland coastal ­coverage and the intermittent coverage of the remainder, however, are serious ­deficiencies that speak to the dated nature of the technology being employed.

The Department of National Defense (DND), through the Canadian Navy, plays a partial security role on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and appears headed to the Arctic, to assert sovereignty through a military presence. As discussed below, DND has become a central institutional hub around which the other marine enforcement players (see related articles on pages 30 and 31) are now increasingly interacting. Ironically, this institutional role may turn out to be the metaphorical ‘aircraft carrier’ that delivers a maritime security solution.

Toronto Police.

The Canadian Border Services Agency is a relatively new creation that has joint Customs and Immigration border enforcement responsibilities, albeit with a strange management reluctance to engage them. Like Senator Colin Kenny who Chairs SCONSAD, the National President of CEUDA (the union representing frontline officers), Ron Moran, is a leading advocate of enhanced enforcement priority at the border. He notes, “Canada is a country of land, air and marine ‘borders’ that require someone to take responsibility for ensuring their security. Despite our existing lawful authority, CBSA continues to balk at equipping our officers with the necessary marine interdiction and inspection capacity and the mandate and means for a pursuit and patrol function that is so clearly missing. This is especially acute in the marine environment because we lack any kind of marine surveillance to even know what we’re missing coming illegally into Canada, or for that matter leaving Canada for illicit entry into the United States. In today’s security heightened world, these deficiencies are inexcusable.”

Local and provincial police marine units perform limited seaport law enforcement and marine patrol as well. This deficient situation at Canada’s seaports is a result of the still inexplicable mid 90’s decision of the former Liberal government to disband Canada’s Ports Police despite the virtual unanimous opposition of police in Canada. The result has been, as was predicted, an explosion of presence of organized crime at Canada’s seaports, which has ominous national security implications as well.

Former Vancouver Ports Police Chief Mike Toddington now serves as Executive Director of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police. He describes the dissolution of the Canada Ports Police in blunt terms. “At best, it was a horrendous mistake that left our country vulnerable to organized crime and now their all-too-frequent terrorist business partners. A seaport is a unique environment that requires 24/7, on site, intelligence-driven policing. Drive by policing is not an option and despite the efforts of other local police agencies, they simply lack the resources and mandate to do the job. For whatever reason, neither the RCMP or CBSA have stepped up to assume these duties and the result is a dangerous hole in our security.”

Specific Challenges

• Knowing What’s Out There
Understanding what’s ‘out there’ is a pre-condition to success. This is especially so in the enormous Canadian maritime environment where targeting resources is essential. The alternative is to either ‘waste gas’, as former RCMP Commissioner Zachardelli infamously stated in his dismissal of the notion of a border patrol, or to knowingly turn a blind eye to a security vulnerability. By using available, modern marine surveillance technology, law enforcement can gather important information for analysis and operational interdiction purposes.

Coverage must be continuous, capable of tracking small vessels, automated, analytical and done in real time, as well as linked to other sensors and secure multi-party communications. Getting out of date, expensive information is simply not working. Most importantly, the coverage system used must meet the identified operational priorities of personnel who are tasked with maritime security and certified by the technology experts within law enforcement.

• Force Multiplication
More law enforcement is not necessarily better law enforcement, especially when dealing with organized crime and terrorism. Instead, an intelligence driven approach based on reliable and timely information focuses our scarce resources on identified targets. The RCMP leadership on the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams (IBET) is a welcome step although this must now evolve to include the mandate and resources to interdict or track what has been detected. This implies an integrated Border and Marine Patrol function incorporating the Canadian Coast Guard into the Ministry of Public Safety, as a part of a law enforcement focused CBSA.

RCMP Officers on a security exercise. (Photo: Roxanne Ouellette, RCMP)

• Tools to do the job
Notwithstanding supportive technology, improved maritime enforcement requires allocation (or re-allocation) of human resources with increased and appropriate assets and training to perform the required marine security duties. This also means ensuring that officers and their organizations have the plethora of necessary equipment, based on a common operating picture, to do the job effectively, such as: patrol boats, zodiacs, helicopters, weapons, and communications technology.  

• Integration
Integration must surely be among the most frequently advocated concepts in any discussion of security or law enforcement. Fortunately, there are signs that real ­integration is occurring within maritime security in Canada. From joint force IBETs to the DND led Inter-Departmental Maritime Security Working Group, to DRDC (Defense and Research Develop­ment Canada) funding of joint agency Maritime Security Operations Centres, to joint local and provincial police marine operations, the momentum of bringing all operational players to the common table is unmistakable.

• Seaports
A serious unresolved maritime security issue is how to restore, and indeed integrate, security and law enforcement at Canada’s seaports. The Canadian government actually included restoration of the Canada Ports Police in its 2006 election platform but has not acted on this. Highlighting the need to correct this deficiency is the continuing international embarrassment arising from CBSA’s refusal to use its authority under the Customs Act to prevent the export of stolen high-end automobiles used as a financing tool for terrorists including Hezbollah.

The RCMP Marine and Ports Branch and its National Ports Enforcement Teams show some promise in addressing this important component of maritime security, inasmuch as it is designed to operate on an intelligence-led joint force model. Whatever seaport enforcement is conceived, it must include an onsite presence to at least the standard of the previous Ports Police.

Although it’s not quite ‘smooth sailing ahead,’ pragmatic progress is on the horizon – these and all maritime security challenges should be recognized by government. Developing and funding a coherent vision and plan is key to meeting these challenges head on.

Scott Newark was an Alberta Crown Prosecutor, Executive Director of the Canadian Police Association, and Director of Operations for the D.C. based Investigative Project on Terrorism. He has also served as a Security Policy Advisor to both the Ontario and Canadian Government and is currently the Vice Chair/Operations of the National Security Group in Ottawa.
© FrontLine Security 2007