Oh That Wonderful Institution Called Canadian Government
Well it's Wednesday and I figure I'll just kick the cat, stir the pot or ring the bell here. I will just start by saying (with deep sarcasm) I love the government that I work for....... ya right. (some fo this might repeat a bit - my apologies for that - I didn't write this stuff)
Government failed to fully act on lessons of Sept. 11: federal watchdog
JIM BRONSKILL Canadian Press Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan defended the government's security program, noting other countries are grappling with the same challenges as Canada. (CP /Jonathan Hayward)
OTTAWA (CP) - The federal government failed to properly act on the grave security lessons of Sept. 11, 2001, resulting in gaps that leave Canada vulnerable to a terrorist attack, says the auditor general.
In a report Tuesday, Sheila Fraser said the Transport Department has neglected to adequately screen up to 4,500 airport workers who may have criminal associations, and revealed border officials have been denied information about the 25,000 Canadian passports that are stolen or lost each year. "These are basic things that should be working more effectively than they are now," Fraser told a news conference.
"I would hope that this report will lead to corrective action."
Following the September 2001 attacks on the United States, the Canadian government allotted $7.7 billion over five years to bolster the fight against global terrorism, prevent extremists from taking haven in Canada and ensure the prosecution of extremists.
But Fraser found authorities lacked an overall plan to focus on the most important threats, guide spending and choose between conflicting priorities.
Departments and agencies are still unable to share some security information and not all of their systems can communicate with each other, Fraser concluded.
Information about the 25,000 Canada passports lost or pilfered annually is not available to front-line officers, even though these passports could be used by terrorists or other criminals, the report says.
Watch lists used to screen visa applicants, refugee claimants and travellers seeking to enter Canada are "in disarray" because of inaccuracies and shoddy updating.
"There is no overall quality control of this vital function, which is spread over several departments and agencies," the report says. "No one monitors delays in the entry or the quality of data on watch lists."
There were no updates to the Immigration Department's watch list from June to November 2001. When Immigration finally updated its records, more than 1,500 names were added.
"Those left off the list included two of the September 11 hijackers whom U.S. authorities had identified in August 2001."
Fraser was disappointed with the overall federal effort to improve on responses to terrorist incidents, including the devastating assaults on the U.S. by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
"The government as a whole did not adequately assess intelligence lessons learned from critical incidents such as September 11 or develop and follow up on improvement programs," her report says.
Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan defended the government's security program, noting other countries are grappling with the same challenges as Canada.
"What the auditor general has said today is that there are things that we need to do better. Well, we knew that," she said. "And we are already fixing those things."
McLellan noted that the federal Passport Office plans to have an agreement by June to allow information about lost and stolen passports to be shared with officers from the Canada Border Services Agency. They would be able to check the information against travel documents presented by people entering the country.
In January, the government set up a National Risk Assessment Centre, which will be responsible for managing and co-ordinating national and international watch lists on a round-the-clock basis.
Fraser stressed the need for better collaboration and information sharing.
In one case, an alert from an ally did not reach the intelligence unit it was intended for because the Canadian agency that initially received it had sent the notice to a centre that failed to circulate it.
Some initiatives lacked proper funding. For instance, machines were purchased to take fingerprints and transmit them in a digital format, but no money was provided to electronically process the digital images. As a result, the time it takes to identify a person through fingerprints has not been reduced.
The auditor general found this worrisome since fingerprints are used to positively identify applicants for security clearances, visas and refugee claims.
Fraser also discovered the Transport Department did not have full access to criminal intelligence held by the RCMP when screening airport employees working in areas where baggage and freight are handled and aircraft are serviced.
Based on an RCMP review of files, Fraser estimated that 5.5 per cent, or 4,500, of the people holding restricted-area clearances at five major airports had possible criminal associations warranting further investigation.
"This represents a serious threat to security at airports."
The Transport Department recently signed an agreement with the RCMP for the sharing of crucial law-enforcement information.
In addition, the audit report has prompted Transport to review the security clearances granted to more than 130,000 airport workers.
"The process could anywhere from six months to perhaps a bit longer," said Transport Minister Tony Valeri.
The Mounties also identified 16 businesses operating at airports that were linked to criminal activity such as providing travel arrangements for organized crime, assisting identity fraud and selling stolen passes.
The firms were associated with biker gangs, organized crime and drug trafficking.
Although nine companies with criminal links were operating at the Halifax and Calgary airports, the RCMP had no active conspiracy investigations underway there.
In general, the various federal agencies responsible for security agreed with Fraser's call for improvements, but she found commitments toward changes "sometimes vague."
Upon the taking office Dec. 12, the administration of Paul Martin consolidated several federal organizations into the overarching Public Safety portfolio.
In the recent federal budget, the government earmarked an additional $605 million for security, to be put toward marine ports, better threat assessment, intelligence initiatives and fingerprint analysis.
Leading up to the audit report's release, McLellan signalled plans for a government-wide secret communication system, part of a larger effort to help agencies share information more effectively.
© The Canadian Press 2004
Canada still vulnerable to terrorist attack, warns auditor general
ALEXANDER PANETTA Canadian Press Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Auditor General Shelia Fraser holds up her March 2004 report during a news conference in Ottawa on March 30. (CP/Jonathan Hayward)
OTTAWA (CP) - After being forced by the auditor general to defend unpalatable Liberal spending, Prime Minister Paul Martin will now have to prove he is capable of defending Canada from the threat of terrorism.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser painted a sobering portrait Tuesday of Canadian security lapses in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. About 25,000 passports lost or stolen each year never appear on border watch lists, and 4,500 airport employees with "possible criminal associations" have access to restricted areas, Fraser said.
It was another kick in the shins to a bruised Liberal government limping toward a mystery election date.
More importantly, it turned the spotlight on a new prime minister suddenly charged with the task of deflecting unwanted international attention thrust on Canada and defending its reputation.
Martin said he is taking the proper measures to keep Canada safe.
"One of the very first things the new government did upon taking office was, in fact, to consolidate all of the activities required for national security," Martin told the House of Commons.
"I'm delighted to say that we've created a new post of minister of public safety and national security and we have put it under the deputy prime minister who is an outstanding member of the cabinet."
In other chapters of her report, Fraser found that:
-Health Canada is not adequately monitoring the risks of new medical devices on the market such as heart valves, blood-test kits and artificial hips.
-The Canadian Food Inspection Agency fails to adequately screen new plants imported into Canada, risking environmental damage.
-The Canada Revenue Agency lowered penalties to businesses that are late in sending employees' income tax, even though it had no authority to do so. The agency has never estimated the amount it overpays on GST refund claims.
But the security lapses uncovered by Fraser are sure to dominate the headlines at home and garner attention abroad.
"The government as a whole failed to adequately assess intelligence lessons learned from critical incidents such as Sept. 11 and systematically follow up on needed improvements," Fraser wrote in the most stinging line of her report.
The prime minister now faces a greater test than a simple sponsorship scandal where the potential damage was limited to taxpayer anger and a battered Liberal party.
This time the stakes are Canada's international reputation and its citizens' sense of security, with his Liberal majority in an expected spring election still hanging in the balance.
Liberals might be forgiven for crossing their fingers in the hope that their government staves off public hysteria more successfully than it extinguished outrage.
Last month, Martin's expressions of outrage and immediate concession of a political scheme in the sponsorship affair won him marks for earnestness. But his tactic practically invited public anger and tore a wider schism in an already divided Liberal party.
The auditor general might have thrown the government a life raft with a phrase in her report where she wrote that Canada is no worse than any of its allies.
"Canada's performance in managing national security in the past two-and-a-half years is consistent with that of our international peers," she wrote.
"Other countries, including the United States, have examined similar areas and have reported findings comparable with those of our audit."
But the Canada-bashers in the United States - and they are a formidable force that goes beyond the Pat Buchanan fringe - may have been handed another club with which to beat on a northern neighbour widely portrayed as a soft and welcoming haven for terrorists.
The government quickly made use of Fraser's international comparison, with Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan citing the U.S. several times as a barometer.
"If you go to the United States and talk to my colleague (U.S. Homeland Security Director) Tom Ridge he will share with you the same challenge, around interoperability (information-sharing)," McLellan said outside the Commons.
"One . . . of our benchmarks is how we compare to our international peers. And today the auditor-general made it absolutely plain that we compare favourably."
But Opposition Leader Stephen Harper said the federal government has a bad reputation abroad - and deserves it - because of its counter-terrorism performance.
"I think unfortunately the Americans expect this kind of record from us," Harper said.
"I don't think we should be surprised by this. This is a Liberal government, it has Liberal priorities. Those priorities don't include national defence, national security and criminality in general. So why should we be surprised?"
Last week, McLellan announced additional measures to create a government-wide communications system in anticipation of the embarrassing accounts in Fraser's report about gaps in intelligence-sharing.
There was the time, for example, when a federal agency failed to circulate a terror alert from a foreign ally.
And in another case the government's top-secret messaging system sent a response to the wrong address, and the sending agency waited a month to follow up and check whether the message had ever been received.
"Fortunately, (that) alert turned out to be a false alarm," Fraser wrote in her typically dry prose.
Transport Minister Tony Valeri said the government already does random screening of airport employees and will work quickly to double-check the credentials of everyone with a full security clearance.
"We have to assess whether they pose a risk for aviation security. That's the basis of our risk assessment," Valeri said, in a possible suggestion that only links to terrorists would be grounds for dismissal.
"The process will take anywhere from six months to perhaps a bit longer."
© The Canadian Press 2004
Canada woefully unprepared for terror attack, disasters: Senate report
JOHN WARD Canadian Press Wednesday, March 31, 2004
OTTAWA (CP) - Canada is woefully unprepared to deal with a terrorist attack or natural disaster because police, firefighters and other front-line workers are often ill-equipped and under-funded, a Senate committee reported Wednesday.
The committee said "first responders" can be hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape and jurisdictional tussles, leaving the country as a whole unprepared for a crisis.
"First responders are not being listened to," the report said. "They are not being communicated with. They are not being adequately funded. They often do not have the resources to do their jobs and it is often unclear as to where to go to get those resources."
The committee on national security and defence, which has been studying the issue for more than two years, said bigger cities are better prepared than smaller ones. But even there, only half of big municipalities said they are prepared for a major disaster.
There appear to be gaps across the country.
For example, Health Canada has stores of emergency medical supplies and equipment cached across the country, but two-thirds of the 86 municipalities that responded to a committee survey said they knew nothing of those stores.
Many cities and towns said they would have problems in a disaster because police, firefighters and ambulances can't communicate with each other because they use different equipment.
The report urged the federal government to strengthen its emergency systems, cut through red tape and co-operate with the provinces to put emergency plans and gear in place.
"When it comes to man-made or natural crises, Canada has a history of muddling through," the senators said.
"In a world that has become much more unpredictable, in which nature has become more capricious and man-made threats have become far more likely and far more ambient, muddling is not enough."
© The Canadian Press 2004
Ain't it wonderful? :mad: