June 8, 2006
Canada's New AttitudeBy Paul Jackson
One of the first things Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper did after the weekend arrests of 17 suspected Islamic terrorists in Ontario was to pick up the phone and thank President George W. Bush for American assistance in tying the alleged plot together.
That was most assuredly unlike the attitude of former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who tried to sooth and smooth Canadians fears after 9/11 by telling them since Canada was a 'multicultural society' they were safe from the threats of a terrorist attack. Or from the stance of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin — Chretien's succesor and Harper's predecessor — who ignored Royal Canadian Mounted Police and security service urgings that the Tamil Tigers organization should be put on Canada's list of banned terrorist groups and instead attended at least one of their fundraising banquets in the hope of winning Tamil votes.
Since the Jan. 23 federal election in which Harper's Conservatives won a minority government there's a new attitude in Ottawa, Canada's capital, and it's simply not because one of the revelations from the round—up of the suspects by some 400 police and security officers was of a plot to storm the Parliament Buildings, capture the prime minister, and behead him.
That grisly revelation surely shook average Canadians — and politically may enhance Harper's standing — but the Conservatives had already started moving in far, far different directions than the previous Liberal administrations. The Tamil Tigers — involved in a civil war in Sri Lanka — are now on Canada's list of banned terrorist groups. Canada was one of the first, if not the first, nation to halt funding to the Palestinian Authority when it was taken over by the Hamas terrorist group. And, after more than a decade of either supporting anti—Israeli resolutions put forward in the United Nations by Arab sheikdoms and Third World nations or simply abstaining from voting, the Harper government has made it clear it regards Israel as an ally.
As for the U.S.A., Harper and his team signaled from Day One that the era when Chretien and Martin snubbed Washington at every touch and turn is over. The U.S. is, in Harper's words, Canada's closest and most important friend and trading partner. Coincidentally, Harper now ends his speeches with an American—like, 'God bless Canada.'
It's fair to say that after 13 years of Liberal rule under both Chretien and Martin a great many Canadians had become not only complacent, but smug, after being repeatedly informed by Chretien and Martin their nation from safe from terrorism. That's even though soon after 9/11 it was revealed Canada was on a list of al—Qaeda targets, and that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP had repeatedly warned the Liberal government of terrorist groups operating here. Indeed, the Mounties had thwarted a number of meetings of suspected terrorists over the past several years by quietly disrupting their planned meetings, but the words from Liberal Ottawa were always those of tolerance, understanding and freedom of speech. Nothing was done, for instance, when in a 2004 television debate, Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, endorsed terrorist attacks against Israel.
It was an attitude that had U.S. security officials frustrated and U.S. politicians angry as they spoke of Canada's lax immigration policies and a 'porous' border between the two nations. That has now surely changed, although some newspapers and politicians in Canada have still carefully made a point of not even mentioning that all the 17 rounded—up suspects are of the Muslim faith, describing them rather as simply 'extremists' or 'radicals.'
Aside from the wake—up call given average Canadians over the past week — the Toronto Stock Exchange was one target, the soaring landmark of the CN Tower in Toronto another — the Harper government had already been quickly moving to bolster national security and the military, just as it has unveiled legislation to get tough on non—political violent crime, especially crime involving guns.
Harper's phone call to Bush came in a week when Canadian Defense Minister Gordon O'Connor had been expected get the ball rolling on an $8—billion (Cnd). procurement package for the Canadian Armed Forces. [A Canadian dollar is worth about 90 cents U.S.] Washington, which has frequently urged Canada to rebuild its military and put some muscle into fighting terrorism, must now be more relived than ever that Canada's Conservatives won the Jan. 23 federal election. The Harper government is charting a steady course aimed at putting as many of their policies in place as possible while aiming to win majority status within a year or so.
Bush's administration had been far more severely critical of Canada's haphazard security and defense policies than that of President Bill Clinton, although it must be admitted that while Islamic terrorism had raised its head during Clinton's term in office — the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the assault on the USS Cole — nothing as dramatic as 9/11 had occurred.
Despite claims by some fringe elements in the U.S. that the 9/11 bombers came from Canada — there is no evidence of that — there was much to suggest radical Islamic groups could use, and might well be using, Canada as a base to hit out at the U.S. For instance, as 1999 drew to a close and New Year's Eve approached it was more by chance than active surveillance that Algerian—born terrorist Ahmed Ressam, who lived in Montreal, was caught trying to slip across the Canadian—U.S. border carrying explosives and planning to blow up part of Los Angeles airport.
An occasional terrorist suspect has been arrested, and even temporarily detained in Canada, but nothing approaching last weekend's swoop has been witnessed since the government of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau imposed the War Measures Act in 1970 following the kidnapping of a Quebec provincial cabinet minister and a British government trade official by Quebec separatist elements. In the aftermath, hundreds of Quebec separatists were detained. Pierre Laporte, the Quebec labor minister was murdered in the kidnappings, though James Cross, the trade official, was eventually rescued and freed unharmed.
The only major security success in Canada in recent decades occurred in 1978 when the RCMP caught 13 Soviet diplomats in a plot to infiltrate the Mounties' own security service. Although Trudeau was reluctant — supposedly not wanting to damage Canadian—Soviet relations — he was force to expel the diplomats when the affair became public.
Canadians had generally been more concerned by Sikh terrorism in their country — in one instance in 1985 extremist Sikhs in British Columbia blew up an Air India jetliner in mid—Atlantic killing 329 passengers and crew —but at least Sikh radicals were aiming at other segments of the Sikh community not at mainstream Canadians. Despite years of investigations and court cases, the main perpetrators of the Air India slaughter are still at large.
Until this past weekend's round—up there may not have been a new political mood across the entire nation, but Harper, O'Connor, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, Public Safety (Homeland Security) Minister Stockwell Day, and Environment Minister Rona Ambrose were already steering Canada in a different direction. It is a direction that must surely be pleasing Washington. Joining President Bush and Vice—President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has publicly expressed her confidence in Harper's new government.
The new concordance between Washington and Ottawa extends beyond intelligence and foreign affairs. For instance, Environment Minister Ambrose has basically proclaimed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change is flawed and Canada will likely join the U.S., Australia, Japan and a few others in the alternative Asia—Pacific Partnership on Clean Development (AP—6). That's a controversial shift, but the Conservatives point out that in the U.S. without Kyoto, carbon missions have risen by some 16% since 1990, and in Canada, with Kyoto, by 24% to 26%.
But, obviously, it is moves in the foreign policy, defense and national security areas that have pleased Washington most. For years Washington has been pleading with Ottawa to beef up its military and put more emphasis on fighting terrorism. Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Paul Celluci, once Governor of Massachusetts, raised the ire of Chretien and Martin with his public criticisms of Canada's lackadaisical attitude towards terrorism and its rusted out military. As finance minister, Martin himself had slashed the armed forces budget and personnel by 25% so that the nation now has only 60,000 members in the armed forces, with only 20,000 of those being combat ready at any given time.
Only days before police swooped on the suspected terrorists, CSIS deputy director Jack Hooper, had appeared before the Senate committee on national security and defense and warned about a complacent attitude towards the terrorist threat, adding that what his service was discovering was so startling that many of his agents couldn't sleep at night. He told the committee that with just 2,400 employees in Canada and around the world — including administrative staff — the agency had been expected to vet some 230,000 individuals and give them security clearance last year. Those included regular immigrants, refugees, Canadians applying for government jobs, and those with access to sensitive areas such as airports and nuclear plants.
His frank testimony was overwhelming. Hooper noted of 20,000 immigrants coming to Canada since 2001 from the regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, hot beds of al—Qaeda, the CSIS had the resources to vet only about 10% of them. Presciently Hooper warned about a growing threat from 'home grown' radicalized Islamic Canadians who seemingly blended into Canadian society but were actively hostile towards it. Coincidentally, five of the 17 suspects arrested were under the age of 18.
It is estimated Canada's Muslim community increased from 100,000 to 600,000 between 1981 and 2001. With Canada accepting some 300,000 new immigrants a year, that number will obviously grow. There is currently a backlog of some 750,000 immigrant applicants from around the world being processed.
Coincidentally, the chairman of the Senate committee on national security and defense is a Liberal, Colin Kenny, who had been a thorn in the side of the governments of Chretien and Martin, as he released hefty reports citing instance after instance of danger to the nation from a makeshift attitude, In a report last year, Kenny's committee suggested the nation needed a defense budget of between $25—$35 billion a year, way above the then $14.1 billion. Kenny spends much of his time touring the country probing weaknesses in airport and sea port security, speaking with police and military officials of all ranks, and trying to awaken the public to the terrorist threat.
Perhaps paradoxically, Kenny was appointed to Canada's Senate by Trudeau, who was both anti—military and scornful of the U.S.A. Somewhere along the way Kenny changed from being a member of the Liberal—Left into something resembling a rightwing Conservative, at least as far as defense and security are concerned. Indeed, his committee's reports and recommendations could likely be adopted in total by Harper's government without a second glance.
In its 2005 report, Kenny's committee noted the amount Canada spend on defense in 2004 'pales' in comparison to many other developed nations. In that year, Canada spent $420 per capita, while the U.S. spent $1,582 and Britain. $988. Australia spent $844 and even the Netherlands $793. [All figures are in Canadian dollars.] Noted Kenny,
In the Conservatives government's first budget, routine defense spending was hiked from the $14.8 billion today to $16.4 billion in 2007—08. Some $1 billion in new money was earmarked for policing and border security, spread over some 20 initiatives, including the hiring of 1,000 more RCMPofficers, and $303 million for a new tightened border strategy.
The most controversial aspect of new defense procurements is likely to be the purchase of four Boeing C—17 Globemaster long range transports at a cost of $1 billion, plus a 20—year support and maintenance plan that will bring the overall cost to $2.5 billion. Linked to this will be $3 billion for 16 replacements for Canada's aging Hercules transport planes from Lockheed Martin. Proponents for the European Airbus A—400 have been pushing for their model, but the odds seem to favor Lockheed's C—130J. Even though tactically, the A—400 may well be a more suitable aircraft, the A—400 won't go into production until 2009, while Lockheed can start delivering almost immediately.
Another reason the Harper government may choose American suppliers is to reward Bush for solving the softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the U.S.A. in which penalties of some $5 billion (Cdn) were placed on Canadian exports to the U.S. The dispute, simmering for more than a decade, and of great controversy in Canada, was suddenly resolved between Bush and Harper with a promise to repay 80% of the penalties and set up a future framework to avoid other similar disputes. It is worth remembering when quoting Canadian financial statistics that Canada has a population and an economy basically the size of California itself. Some observers suggest to put statistics into perspective compared to the U.S. one has to multiply them roughly by 10.
That Canadians — even those of the Liberal—left — may finally have woken up to the dangers of terrorism was echoed by former Liberal deputy prime minister and public safety minister and emergency procedures Anne McLellan earlier this week when she said the country could no longer enjoy the 'blessed existence' that allowed it to fly under the radar screen of world terrorism.
McLellan, who was defeated in the Jan. 23 election, had been assessed by many with trying to do a credible job as public safety minister despite her arduous role as deputy prime minister and her own government's apparent nonchalance to the terrorist threat.
After he became prime minister, Harper abolished the role of deputy prime minister, and made the public safety post a full cabinet portfolio, saying it needed the constant attention of the minister in charge. This month's arrests surely attest to that.
Paul Jackson is an award—winning Canadian journalist who has spent some 40 years writing for many of Canada's major daily newspapers. He is now Editor Emeritus of the Calgary Sun.