Canada has become complacent and neglectful of national security and urgently needs to revamp its thinking to counter Russia’s aggression, China’s growing influence and the rise of right-wing extremism in Canada and the United States, according to a major new report.
“We are living in a time of intense global instability when the security of Canada and other liberal democracies is under growing threat,” says the report, A National Security Strategy for the 2020s, released Tuesday. “Canada is not ready to face this world. As a country, we need to urgently rethink national security.”
It was prepared by the University of Ottawa Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with input from four former national security advisers, two Canadian Security Intelligence Service directors, academics and retired ambassadors and deputy ministers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the direct threat to Western interests, while China is potentially an even more serious, long-term challenge, the report says.
“China and Russia will continue to pose a significant threat to Canada through foreign interference, disinformation, espionage, hostage diplomacy and cyberattacks,” it says. “Our lack of a firm response, moreover presents a serious risk for our allies, and could affect security and intelligence relations with them.”
Canada needs to crack down on university research collaboration with China in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing, the report urges.
Ottawa must also re-examine its Arctic policy and build a stronger military footprint in the North to counter Russia’s modern military bases there and China’s addition of a third heavy icebreaker to its fleet. The reports call for setting up a long-promised naval base on Baffin Island and expediting the delivery of Arctic and offshore patrol vessels.
A far-ranging national security review must also examine the rise of the far right in Canada and the U.S. The truck convoy protests that led to border blockades and the closure of much of downtown Ottawa had direct links to U.S. extremists but also support from conservative media outlet Fox News and some Republican politicians, the report notes.
“This may not have represented foreign interference in the conventional sense since it was not the result of a foreign government. But it did represent, arguably, a greater threat to Canadian democracy than actions of any state other than the United States,” it says. “It will be a significant challenge for our national security and intelligence agencies to monitor this threat since it emanates from the same country that is by far our great source of intelligence.”
The report was put together under the direction of Vincent Rigby, who was recently a national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Juneau, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
Both warned that Canada needs to figure out how it should respond to democratic backsliding in the U.S. and how it should deal with the possible re-election of Donald Trump.
“If Trump comes back or someone like Trump comes to power in 2024, which is not far-fetched,” Prof. Juneau said in an interview, “does the U.S. stay in NATO? Does it become more unilateral and unpredictable?”
Mr. Rigby said political polarization in the U.S. is “something Canada must watch extremely closely.”
The report says Canada should consider joining AUKUS, the security pact between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia designed to counter China’s military influence in the Asia-Pacific region. The pacts lets Australia acquire U.S. technology to build nuclear-powered submarines – armed with conventional weapons – and covers AI and other technologies as well.
The report calls for a thorough public review of national security policy, including the CSIS Act, Emergencies Act and Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. It says Canada needs to embrace modern spy tools being used by many of its Five Eyes intelligence-sharing partners, the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.
It calls for the creation of a standalone unit to collect and analyze open-source intelligence, set up a national counter foreign interference co-ordinator, as Australia has done, and establish a financial crimes agency to handle sophisticated digital crimes and money laundering.
Parliamentarians should be given more classified briefings on files such as foreign interference operations, and cabinet should set up a national security committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. The report also recommends that the intelligence assessment secretariat in the Privy Council Office be merged with CSIS’s Terrorism Assessment Centre under the Prime Minister’s national security and intelligence adviser.
It says Ottawa should consider the creation of a government-wide, top-secret cloud, as many of Canada’s allies have done, to store vast amounts of department and agency data. And the government should share national security data more widely with academics and the private sector, provided they receive the necessary security clearances.
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