Cablegate: Canada: Public Safety Minister Speaks Out On

Published: Tue 12 Jul 2005 08:08 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) Summary: On July 11 Deputy Prime Minister Anne
McLellan gave a speech that the Ottawa Citizen described as
one of the most forceful ever by a Canadian minister on
terrorism. She stated "we have perhaps for too long thought
that these were things that happened somewhere else. But
Canadians are not immune to what we see happen in London,
Madrid, 9/11." She suggested that Canadians are not as
psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as they ought
to be. McLellan's comments were a notable shift from the
post-9/11 tradition of playing down the terrorist threat to
Canada. Her address and statements match the current trend
among opinion leaders of demonstrating a remarkable amount of
empathy for the United Kingdom, and growing awareness that
Canada could very well be the next victim of an attack. This
sense of vulnerability and urgency does not appear to
resonate with the average Canadian, however, who continues to
evince a sense of aloofness from terrorist attacks based on
the popular image of Canada's fair and generous position in
the world. END SUMMARY
2. (SBU) In a speech delivered to the 15th World Conference
on Disaster Management July 11, Anne McLellan, Deputy Prime
Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency
Preparedness, spoke frankly about Canada's vulnerability in
the wake of the London bombings. McLellan combined clear
statements about the current threat to Canada with a list of
what Canada has been doing to meet the threat, and suggested
where there is more work to be done.
3. (U) Since 9/11, McLellan said, Canada has spent CN$9
billion in public safety initiatives. She ticked off a long
list of things Canada has done to improve its public safety
posture since 9/11 and SARS:
-- Intelligence-sharing network put in place after the
Madrid bombings
-- Creation of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Canada (PSEPC) in December 2003 (the equivalent of DHS)
-- Creation of Public Health Agency of Canada (modeled
after CDC)
-- Promulgation of Government's National Security Policy
-- Development of Cabinet Committee on Security, Public
Health, and Emergencies to coordinate cabinet level decisions
-- Development of exercises within Canada and with
international partners
-- Establishment of Government Operations Center (under
PSEPC, a 24/7 facility to monitor and respond to crisis), and
National Emergency Response System activated June 30 to
ensure a more harmonious response by federal agencies.
4. (U) McLellan also spoke of a number of initiatives that
are ongoing, stating that "the way Canada dealt with
Emergency Management in the past is not good enough for the
present." She also suggested that Canadians need to "expand
our idea of community and explore the wider implications of
emergencies." She suggested more work on the following:
-- Co-locating regional emergency management offices with
those of the provinces and municipalities (already completed
in NS, PEI and the NW Territories, soon in Ottawa).
-- Finalization of Critical Infrastructure Protection
strategy, with timelines for implementation.
-- Establishment of a National Task Force on Cyber
Security to complement the Cyber Incident Response Center in
the ops center.
-- Ongoing effort to respond to emergencies in an
integrated manner, developing new methods for coordinating
between provinces, communities, and the territories, and
between nations.
-- Continuation of support for first responders.
5. (U) McLellan said that Canada's Emergency Preparedness
System worked as expected when activated following the London
bombings, but noted the need for closer collaboration between
Canada's mass transit systems, and suggested the need to
examine training systems for transit security officials.
6. (SBU) Canadian officials have indicated a clear
understanding that a nation's psychological preparation is
important to weathering and recovering from an attack, and
McLellan pointed out in her speech that she does not believe
that "Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a
terrorist attack as I think probably we all should be." For
too long, McLellan said, Canadians thought "that these were
things that happened somewhere else. But Canadians are not
immune to what we see happened in London, Madrid, 9/11. We
are not immune to that kind of terrorist violence."
7. (SBU) At the same time, McLellan went out of her way to
point out that there are no known imminent threats. She said
in her speech that "there is no specific threat against
Canada at this time," and remarked to the press that "there
is no necessity for Canadians to be in any way unusually
alarmed." The latter was likely a response to comments from
the retiring head of the Canadian Security and Intelligence
Service, Ward Elcock, who publicly suggested it was now a
matter of if, not when, Canada will be attacked.
8. (SBU) McLellan's comments underscore the resonance which
the London bombings has here, something which was not true of
New York, Madrid or Bali (all of which garnered considerable
sympathy, but not this kind of almost familial connection).
Editorial and Opinion comment fell just short of a rallying
call-to-arms, it was completely supportive of Canada's UK
cousins and almost jingoistic in its accolades for British
resolve and grit in the midst of attack. Compliments on the
reaction to the attacks praised post 9-11 counter-terrorism
and disaster relief development, while also suggesting it was
all a natural extension of the British character. Some
comment went so far as to dismiss the scale of the attack,
suggesting that terrorists would have to put forward a
markedly greater effort to truly rattle the Brits. Frequent
references were made to the Blitz of World War Two and IRA
campaigns against England as examples of how Britain has been
properly challenged in the past and has weathered the storm.
9. (SBU) Apart from the suggested connection between Canada
and the UK, another clear focus in the coverage of the
attacks is "could it happen here?" This includes coverage
beyond McLellan's call for Canadians to be psychologically
prepared. With a few exceptions the media suggests the
answer is yes. Much attention is dedicated to a list of
targets held by Al-Qaeda that includes Canada. Government of
Canada officials are openly stating that Canada is on a
target list of some kind, but are quick to point out there
have been no specific threats or information to suggest an
attack is imminent. Media presentation of Canada being on a
list does not completely stand up to examination, but the
perception continues and is supported by comments such as
McLellan's. (Comment: Confusion does exist because different
media outlets are clearly referring to different lists, some
referencing statements made by Osama Bin Laden, others noting
captured Al-Qaeda operatives. As an example of the
confusion, CBC coverage presented a report on the morning of
the bombing that played a bin Laden recording listing the
U.S., Australia, the U.K, France, Spain and Canada. The
graphic included the French flag with all the others, and the
anchor indicated that Canada was the only country left to be
hit without mentioning France. End Comment)
10. (SBU) Some experts have tried to temper the idea of
Canada as next-on-the-list by saying out that while Canada is
still a target, it has, in fact, always been a target and the
attacks on London do not demonstrate an increased risk for
this country. The few voices that dismiss the threat to
Canada suggest that no city in Canada, not even Toronto,
holds a high enough profile to be worth the effort.
Secondly, they state that any attack on Canadian soil would
result in immediate and drastic changes on the border with
the United States that would make already difficult access to
the United States even more challenging. These points of
view appear, however, to accept a networked Al-Qaeda, not the
disorganized Al-Qaeda movement that is being described with
growing frequency.
11. (SBU) COMMENT: Despite comments from Minister McLellan
and media coverage that supports her more assertive position,
televised 'man-on-the-street' interviews continue to indicate
that Canadians do not really believe Canada is at risk.
While London may have hit the closest yet in the psyche of
the Canadian people, not even this would appear to change the
general perception that terrorists simply wouldn't hit a
country that is so generous and fair-minded in the world. If
London was an alarm clock, the snooze button here was quickly
hit, and Ottawa is good for at least another thirty minutes
of slumber.
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