An Update of Security Problems in Search of Solutions

The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence


December 6, 2004

Why the need for this UPDATE on Canada’s military/security capacity?

Five good reasons:

  1. A national government’s primary raison d’être is to offer its citizens physical security. That is why states were invented.
  2. When it comes to national security and defence – issues that are not part of the everyday lives of most Canadians – the vast majority of citizens trust in luck. Unfortunately, luck is notoriously untrustworthy.
  3. The federal government has made progress in dealing with Canada’s military and security shortcomings over the past year, but significant gaps remain. Those gaps are unlikely to be closed unless both the media and the public are aware of them.
  4. The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence has enjoyed some success in getting the federal government to respond to recommendations set out in nine reports over the past three and a half years, so to some extent our persistence appears to be paying off.
  5. It has not, however, paid off to the point where we can cease and desist. Given the serious gaps outstanding, closing our books on these issues would constitute negligence on the part of the Committee. So we persist.


Assessing the Martin Government’s Progress

This is the first national security report that the Committee has published since the recent federal election. Of the nine earlier reports, eight were released during the Chrétien administration, and one during the Martin administration.2

Mr. Chrétien’s successors have now had time to begin tackling national security issues. To its credit, the Martin government has introduced some significant reforms, most notably the consolidation of much of the security file under the Deputy Prime Minister and the release of the national security policy.

The body of this report will itemize some measures that the current government has taken to upgrade Canada’s security and defense capability. These measures are certainly not inconsequential. Still, given the imperative of improving Canada’s capacity to defend itself and achieve its objectives in world affairs, it is fair to say that the new government has yet to demonstrate that is prepared to match resources with its stated objectives.

This 2005 Guide Book lists the problems that the Committee has identified over the past three years, sets out the recommendations we made to deal with those problems, identifies government responses to those problems (if the government has indeed responded), and assesses the degree to which problems remain.


Major Issues

Some of the issues we set out are stamped High Priority. That doesn’t mean other issues aren’t important ­– we simply wanted to highlight some of the most significant lingering problems and prioritize the challenges that the government faces.


Such as:

• Some of the most serious lingering problems fall within the broad categories of inadequate defence budgets (Chapter 4; Problem 1); lack of Canadian Forces personnel (Chapter 4; Problem 4); coordination within the federal government (Chapter 5, Problem 3), and the need for expanded cooperation with U.S. security institutions (Chapter 5; Problem 6).

• Serious vulnerabilities remain at Canada’s airports, including lack of screening of mail and cargo (Chapter 7: Problem 16), inadequate background checks on airport personnel (Chapter 7; Problem 2), lack of security at fixed-base operations adjacent to terminals (Chapter 7; Problem 12), lack of controls over access to restricted areas (Chapter 7: Problem 14) and under-trained part-time customs staff (Chapter 2; Problem 3).

• Canada ’s sea ports also remain far too vulnerable –a public inquiry is needed to determine where security is weak (Chapter 6; Problem 1), the presence of organized crime persists (Chapter 6; Problem 2), as does inadequate container screening (Chapter 6; Problem 5)."

• The lack of adequate Great Lakes surveillance constitutes the soft underbelly of Canadian coastal defence – the Lakes are not receiving nearly the government attention finally being paid to gaps in West and East coast defences (Chapter 3: Problem 13).

• With regard to emergency preparedness, the federal government is still not coordinating efforts to assemble and distribute a “lessons-learned” package to first responders that offer them insights into responses that have worked and responses that have failed during past emergencies (Chapter 8; Problem 8).

• The primary component to battling modern-day asymmetrical warfare is intelligence; there is not yet any evidence that Canada’s intelligence agencies are operating with sufficient staff and scope to thwart threats to the security of Canadians and Canada’s allies. (Chapter 5; Problem 9).

•  Canada’s toothless Coast Guard remains a vastly underutilized resource. Despite its misleading name, it plays only a perfunctory role in guarding Canada’s vulnerable coastlines. (Chapter 3; Problem 5).

The Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence does not pretend to be any all-knowing font of wisdom commenting on the wide variety of issues outlined in this report. But members of the Committee have listened carefully to a long list of witnesses, many of them operating on the ground, on the water and in the air.

The Committee has attempted to forward the best information that we have been able to glean on Canada’s defence and security problems, so that we might help Canadians understand these problems.

We sincerely hope that the first edition of the Canadian Security Guide Book plays a useful role in helping Canadians tackle issues that are of great importance to all of us.

For more information, please contact:

Veronica Morris
Office (613) 996-2877

For more information on the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence please visit

Top of document