Oversight: Who Is in Charge of Canadian Anti-terrorism?

AuthorCraig Forcese; Kent Roach
Oversight: Who Is in Charge of Canadian
e terrorist attacks of October  were security failures. Security failures
raise the question, who is in charge? In Canadian security, the practical an-
swer is everyone — the responsible ministers and the heads of the security
agencies. Too often, this means no one is in charge.
The October Attacks as a Symbol of a Larger Ailment
Many Canadians understandably had dicu lty understanding how an
armed terrorist could run across Parliament Hill, encounter resistance at the
entrance to Parliament’s centre block, but then manage to make it to Par-
liament’s Hall of Honour, only metres from where the prime minister and
members of Parliament were meeting. A heavily redacted report by the On-
tario Provincial Police, released in June , concluded that one reason for
this breach was that no one was in charge. Parliament Hill was defended by
“three separate agencies [working] with dierent communication systems,
separate training a nd limited interactions between their members, operat-
ing in silos to provide security to Parliament Hill.” e report pointed to
numerous prior reviews that had recommended a more centralized security
approach, but no action had been taken. It also noted that the attack on
Parliament could have had “devastating consequences” had it been better
A further report revealed that, while the RCMP was placed in charge
of Parliament’s security in February , the consolidation of House and
Senate security sta wa s not complete as of June . Moreover, “cha llenges
remain with regards to communications interoperability with the RCMP.
In other words, eight months after a murderous attack that could have been
much, much worse, we had not managed fully to dismantle the institutional
silos of just those agencies defending Parliament.
ese reports did not deal with the fa ilure to increase security, despite
intelligence issued days before the  October  attack, warning of a pos-
sible attack. ey also did not deal with the chaos a fter the shooting, in
part caused by poor evacu ation, c ommu nications, and lockdown procedures.
ey did not deal with the unorganized deployment of Ottawa police —
something discussed in an Ottawa Police Services a ssessment — or the fact
that it took eight hours to verify that Zeha f-Bibeau was the only attacker.
e OPP’s report conrmed comments made by a retired leader of Can-
ada’s elite Joint Task Force  special forces counter-terrorism unit: the frag-
mented approach to defending Parliament is “symptomatic of some of the
larger issues that we have in Ca nada,” with an approach to security that is
“siloed and stovepiped. So, inside Public Safety, inside DND (Department of
National Defence) and inside Foreign Aairs, you’ve got silos of information
that don’t necessarily translate down to the folks on the shop oor.” He added,
“it is a systemic issue about how we bring together those dierent security
forces, actors, so that we’ve got a coherent approach.
In other words, no one has been in charge.
The Need to Understand Security Failures
ere is a huge danger in second-guessing the dicult decisions that secur-
ity ocials must make in a llocating scarce surveillance and other resources.
ere is also a huge danger in promoting the ultimately false view that we
can prevent every terrorist attack.
Nevertheless, we have been struck by the absence of sustained ques-
tioning about whether the October attacks were preventable and who was
responsible for the inadequate measures taken that failed to prevent the at-
tacks. And ag ain, a large part of the inattention may be because of the lack of
availability of publicly accessible information close to a year a fter the attacks,
a reaction that can be contrasted with Australia’s detailed seventy-ve-page
report released shortly after a Dec ember  terrorist attack in Sydney.
Unfortunately, this lack of information is not unprecedented. Canada
has been slow to learn from past security failures. A commission of inquiry
into the  Air India bombings was only appointed in . It found that
Chapter Eleven: Oversight
the RCMP and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) did not
share intelligence about specic threats to Air India planes in June . e
RCMP allowed all of its bomb-sning dogs to attend a tr aining session, thus
making them unavailable, on the day the luggage bomb that later exploded
over the Atlantic made its way through Canada’s three largest airports. e
commission catalogued how CSIS and the RCMP worked at cross purposes
after the bombings and how the poor treatment and protection of witnesses
helped explain why only one person was convicted of manslaughter for the
largest mass murder in Ca nadian history.
Both during the Air India Commission and during the debates about
the new  terrorism laws, the government has consistently taken the pos-
ition that the security failures revealed by the Air India d isaster are a thing
of the distant past. e commission — and some security professionals who
testied about Bill C - — disagreed. We share these concerns about the
eectiveness of our security response.
Poorly Understood Facts Make Bad Law
Instead of asking ha rd questions about the enforcement of existing laws and
whether the October  attacks c ou ld have been pre vented t hrough better-
resourced and organized security, the government concluded that vast new
security powers were necessar y. Politicians cited the emotionally powerful
testimony of Louise Vincent, the sister of the murdered soldier at Saint-
Jean-sur-Richelieu, and of Bal Gupta, the able and tireless chair of the Air
India  Victims Families Association. Both of these individuals test ied
to committees studying Bill C -, and asserted that the new laws could have
kept their loved ones alive.
In the absence of more information, however, it is not possible to know
whether Ma rtin C outure-Rou leau, the terrorist w ho murdered Warra nt Of-
cer Patrice Vincent on  October , would have been subject to a peace
bond under Bill C-’s lowered evidentiary threshold. e RCMP anticipated
the Senate asking whether the new pe ace bond powers would have stopped
Couture-Rouleau. Its prepared response, provided in internal documents, is
a non-response. It simply pointed to the lower thresholds, without actually
addressing the question whether a peace bond would have been granted or
have mattered on the ground. Similarly, Bill C- permits increased infor-
mation sharing about all range of security threats, but it does not priori-
tize or actual ly require information sharing about terrorism, a long-standing
problem most manifest in CSIS’s sharing practices and the one the Air India
inquiry urged be xed.

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