Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale speaks at the Conference of Defence Associations and CDA Institute's 2016 Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence


Ottawa, Ontario
February 18, 2016

As delivered

Thank you very kindly for your welcome and your introduction today.  Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.  Let me begin by thanking the Institute of the Conference of Defence Associations for asking me to join you today.  The work of informing Canadians about defence and national security issues and engaging them in thoughtful discussion and dialogue is exceedingly important and perhaps now more than ever.

I’m grateful for this first opportunity that I have to participate in this forum.  As you might imagine I have been climbing a pretty steep learning curve over the last few weeks and two or three months.  I am getting a lot of spontaneous advice.

That I think suggests something very positive and that is an appetite among a great many Canadians to be better engaged on issues so critical to our country.  The Public Safety portfolio as you know is enormous and complex with the department itself including its essential emergency preparedness function plus of course the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Canada Border Services Agency, the Correctional Service of Canada, the Parole Board of Canada and then a range of review bodies associated with those various agencies.

It all adds up to over 65,000 employees and close to $9 billion in annual expenditures.  The Public Safety portfolio is the largest non-military portfolio in the Government of Canada and it bears the lead responsibility to keep Canadians safe.  Given the Prime Minister’s totally transparent publication of his mandate letters to all of his Cabinet Ministers, you of course are fully aware of the ambitious assignments that he wants to see accomplished.

On the topic of public security, threats to Canadians can arise in many different ways, through crime, terrorism, natural disasters, severe weather related situations, public health emergencies and many others.  For today I want to focus on our national security priorities related to terrorism, radicalization to violence and cyber security and the vital importance of collaboration and effective public engagement as we tackle all of those issues.

In other words, I want and I need your help.  Woven throughout my mandate are two essential imperatives that must be achieved in lockstep together.  First we need to be effective in keeping Canadians safe and simultaneously we need to safeguard Canadian values, our rights and freedoms and the open, generous, diverse, inclusive character of our country, the qualities in other words that make Canada, Canada.

Those who would attack us want to change all that. They hate the way we live. They seek to instill division, fear and loathing in everything we do.  They want us to see our neighbours differently.  They abhor tolerance and accommodation.  Pluralism is anathema to them.  Freedom, democracy and respect for human differences are to be despised.  We cannot enjoy our individual rights and freedoms without effective collective security.

We must achieve that collective security in ways that do not impair the very essence of that which we seek to protect.  It’s often a tough circle to square.  The new government’s first big challenge arrived with our urgent initiative to rescue and resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees from the deadly scourge of ISIL and Syria’s brutally dysfunctional government.  This is a large and important humanitarian project in the finest Canadian tradition.

We first proposed it nearly a year ago now.  It earned the early support of mayors and premiers and NGO’s and others right across the country but it had to be done properly including no compromise on the quality of the security work necessary to keep Canadians safe and to foster the long term success of the project.  That principle, no compromise on safety, was firm and solid from the outset.

Designed through the best expertise in the department of Citizenship, Immigration and Refugees and the RCMP and CSIS and CBSA our approach involves multiple layers of security screening. The initial selection of a roster of potential newcomers to Canada was done in collaboration with the UNHCR according to specific criteria focused on those who are the most vulnerable and present the fewest complications, like whole families with small children.

Each adult is interviewed thoroughly one by one by skilled Canadian immigration professionals.  Biometric data is collected.  All details are checked against both Canadian and US data bases for any immigration or security or criminal red flags.   If there is anything in the data or in the interview that causes the immigration officer to have the slightest concern, that file is simply set aside and the interviewer moves on. Quite literally millions are waiting for help.

Once they are in the queue to come to Canada identities are rechecked repeatedly to guard against infiltration before anyone gets on a plane. When they arrive here these refugees are met and checked again by CBSA border officers like all new arrivals to Canada.  To put this in context, CBSA processes some 270,000 people seeking to enter Canada on every normal business day.

In our Syrian refugee initiative, the total number of new arrivals since last November is now very close to 22,000, on track toward our goal by the end of this month.  Settlement agencies, volunteers, donors, communities and Canadians generally have responded with warmth and compassion to this project showing once again that Canada is a country built by diversity and stronger because of it.

Yes we are fundamentally a safe and peaceful nation but we are not immune to tragedy as demonstrated by the horrible events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and in Ottawa in October of 2014.  2015 was another year of international horror and loss, twice in France and in San Bernardino and elsewhere.  This new year began with the painful loss of Canadian lives in Jakarta and Burkina Faso.  Unwavering vigilance is required.

Canadians need to know that their police, security, intelligence and defence personnel are strong, professional and assiduous in doing the difficult jobs we ask of them all of the time.  Among other things they constantly assess and reassess the threat level to Canada and Canadians, all relevant factors are monitored and taken into account.   As of today Canada’s threat level remains unchanged at medium where it stood in October of 2014.

But we always remain alert and so should Canadians.  Earlier this week I was in Washington for a meeting with our five eyes security and intelligence allies, the U.S. the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. The relationships are excellent and the agenda was robust as we examined the ways in which we can work better together.  It would come as no surprise to anyone in this room that issues like counter radicalization and combating cyber threats were very much on our international agenda this week.

Just as those same topics were vigorously discussed last month at a federal provincial territorial meeting of Justice and Public Safety Ministers held in Quebec City and then a few days later those same topics were being discussed with mayors and municipalities at meetings of the FCM.  In all of these fora and many others, including with business groups, policy makers, stakeholders and opinion leaders are wrestling with the same core issues that dominate my mandate letter. 

In a world of uncertainty and risk and rapid change, do we have the tools necessary to keep people safe and are we using all of our tools in ways that safeguard our best values as a society and when necessary how are these two sometimes competing imperatives to be reconciled.  A common thread is the need for informed thoughtful inclusion, analysis and debate.  Not with fear-mongering, not with naiveté but the public needs to be engaged.

To that end I noted an interesting contribution to the public discourse just yesterday.  Former CBSA president Luc Portelance and former CSIS assistant director Ray Boisvert published a paper generally approving of our government’s proposed improvements in the review and scrutiny of security and intelligence agencies and at the same time urging us to fill deficiencies in agency effectiveness.   That is exactly our intent. 

In response to Portelance and Boisvert, national security law professor Craig Forcese is quoted as saying that he is in agreement with all of that too.  I know the devil is in the detail but I am hopeful that our determination to consult and engage Canadians on all of these issues will bear positive fruit and hopefully some consensus about how best to proceed.  There was a unique moment in the painful aftermath of the tragedies in October of 2014 when Canadians could have been drawn together in common cause to find that delicate intersection between security and individual rights and freedoms.

The whole country at that time shared the grief of those sorry days.  We leaned on each other including people on all sides in Parliament.  There was a clear sense that laws and procedures indeed needed to be strengthened and there was palpable will to try very hard to work with each other to get it right.  Unfortunately the government of that day decided to proceed in a different manner.

The extraordinary moment for potential collaboration evaporated and new legislation that many Canadians have found to be problematic in a number of ways, namely Bill C-51, was the result.  We are committed to identifying and correcting those problems and it’s imperative that we do so.  We are beginning a broad consultation about Canada’s national security framework to hear from parliamentarians, from subject matter experts, from the general public and indeed from our foreign partners too.

For example, how do we make sure that citizens’ rights to protest and demonstrate and advocate are not infringed?  How do we fix deficiencies in so-called no-fly lists to ensure only the proper use of data to ensure proper redress mechanisms, delisting where appropriate and far fewer false positives while at the same time making sure air travel is as safe as it can be and that would-be terrorists are kept from becoming foreign fighters.

What is the proper precise definition of terrorist propaganda?  There was some commentary during the election campaign last year that the definition currently in the law was so broad and phrased in such a way that it might well have caught certain election advertising in the course of the campaign.  Obviously the definition needs some improvement. What is needed to ensure that in all the things we do we’re in compliance with the Charter?

In terms of stronger reviews and scrutiny of security and intelligence matters we are committed to establishing a new committee of parliamentarians to be part of that process.  Each one of our five eyes partners already has such a parliamentary vehicle for protecting the public interest.  Canada currently is the anomaly.  Interestingly enough Sheila Fraser when she was Auditor General recommended such an innovation more than a decade ago.

My predecessor Anne McLellan actually introduced draft legislation to create that parliamentary vehicle but when the government changed in 2006 the idea disappeared. We will restore that initiative and get it done.  We will learn from other countries’ experiences.  We’ll listen to Canadians and produce a truly Canadian model that will work well for us.  We’ll consider what other levels and instruments of review and scrutiny are appropriate to again ensure two things – that our police and security agencies are being effective at keeping us safe and that our values, rights and freedoms are being respected.

My mandate letter also deals with the threat of radicalization.  If we want to safeguard our open and inclusive way of life we should aspire to be among the best in the world at understanding radicalization and those most vulnerable to its insidious effects.  How does it happen?  How can we counteract that negative ideology and the messages that draw people in, especially young people?  Who can best intervene while there’s still time to avoid a tragedy?  How do we reach out to engage the right communities, the right families, the right role models at the right time?

The Government of Canada has done some valuable research work in this field through its Kanishka  program.  Engagement efforts have been undertaken by my department and by the RCMP.  Cities like Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto and the province of Quebec have taken important steps locally or within their jurisdictions. 

Other countries are expanding their knowledge bases and are anxious to share.  We will establish a new Canadian office of community outreach and counter radicalization coordination and we will get a better name than that for what we intend to create.

The objective is to be effective, to find, promote and share the best ways to build and maintain healthy, resilient communities and healthy, resilient individuals. 

Finally, let me just touch on cyber issues for a minute.  We live in a highly networked world where technological innovation is always forging ahead, bringing great advancements to our quality of life together with constantly evolving threats to our security.

Cyber security matters a lot to Canada because Canadians are among the largest per capita users of the Internet in the world.  We depend on information technologies to run our businesses, to communicate about everything and to live from day to day.  Our most critical infrastructure systems are heavily cyber dependent.  Imagine how rapidly this has all changed.  When I was first elected to Parliament the fax machine had not been invented.  A lot has changed.

We need to make sure that our ability to deal with all of this is as sophisticated as the ability of those who would use technology to do us harm.  In global terms Lloyds of London has estimated that cybercrime in 2015 cost businesses around the world some $400 billion.  Another study suggests that before the end of this decade that global cost will escalate to more than $2 trillion.  We need to work continuously to build up our resilience to this potentially devastating activity.

Infrastructure, most of it in the private sector and/or under provincial jurisdiction, needs to be safeguarded.  We need to get better and better at identifying threats and vulnerabilities, protecting ourselves, protecting our customers and preparing for disruptions and recovery.  Our Canadian cyber Incident Response Centre plays a key role in helping to defend vital systems outside the federal government. 

The work of that Centre is truly impressive. The RCMP have recently published a new strategy to better fight cybercrime.  Major companies in the private sector announced in December the creation of a new Canadian Cyber Threat Exchange to better inform and mobilize their efforts in the private sector.  But almost everyone shares the sense that more can be done and much more should be done.  In concert with several of my Cabinet colleagues, we will be conducting a comprehensive review of all existing measures to protect Canadians and our critical infrastructure from cyber threats.

This is another classic area where meaningful engagement is essential and it’s urgent to better inform the policy decisions that governments need to make. We want to take advantage of the marvels that can be created by information technology but we need to fully understand the risks, too, and defend ourselves against them.  In all of these fields, cyber and all the others I’ve mentioned, this Institute – to go back to my original point – has a very useful role to play.  You bring together a broad cross section of very well informed, very well-engaged Canadians.

From the Government’s point of view, we want accurate information to underpin evidence based decision-making.  We want thoughtful discussion, analysis and debate.  We want open inclusive consultations that reassure Canadians that their engagement is not just window dressing but is meaningful and has impact.  At the bottom line, to get back to the theme of the mandate letter, we want a national security system that is effective in keeping Canadians safe and one that Canadians trust to safeguard their values and their way of life.  We are all in this together and we need to get it right.  I thank you very much for your attention.

Search for related information by keyword

Hon. Ralph Goodale Public Safety Canada Health and Safety

Page details

Date modified: