OTTAWA (Reuters) - A lack of resources could threaten Canada’s efforts to combat terror attacks at a time when the government is talking up the threat of jihadist violence, say top current and former security officials.
The right-leaning Conservative government wants legislators to pass a bill that would for the first time allow the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency to interrupt suspects’ travel plans and communications.
Yet Ottawa has given little sign it will boost the agency’s budget at a time when the anti-terror fight is under strain.
Canadian police on Wednesday said a man on a watch list of people suspected of wanting to fight for militant groups abroad had left the country illegally.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson told legislators last week he had transferred 600 officers from organized crime, drug and financial integrity files to the counter-terrorism beat.
“I just don’t think it’s sustainable to maintain our programs in other areas (from which) we are drawing resources ... to address this threat,” he said.
Initial spending estimates released this month showed the government, determined to balance the budget in the run-up to an October election, planned to slightly trim the RCMP’s budget and give CSIS a little more money in 2015/16.
By contrast, Australia said last August it would add $632 million ($479 million) in counter-terrorism funding for four years.
“If you add up the resources, and you look at the amount of work that we do, it (funding) is miniscule compared to our Western allies,” said a source familiar with security matters.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, in overall charge of law enforcement, told a Parliamentary committee on Monday he appreciated how the RCMP was juggling its budget.
“Like any other agency they were asked to rationalize and optimize their efforts and I think this is what the taxpayers expect of any one of us,” he said, giving no sign extra money was coming.
The question of bigger budgets is also crucial for CSIS, which will have broader responsibilities once the new security law is passed.
Ray Boisvert, a former CSIS director-general of intelligence, calls the new powers “a seismic shift” and frets about the effect on the agency at a time when the number of potential targets is increasing.
“You have to be endowed with sufficient resources, otherwise it is that mixed blessing and a curse ... you need the human and financial resources. Running operations is expensive,” he told Reuters.
Boisvert said that like the RCMP, CSIS was putting less emphasis on non-counter-terrorism operations.
“We’re focused on one issue right now and that’s a mistake,” he said.
Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement, in overall charge of government spending, said officials had calculated the fiscal implications of the security bill.
“We will get back to Parliament in due course if and when the bill is passed,” he said when pressed by Reuters, but declined to say whether the agency would get more money.
Additional reporting by Mike De Souza and Randall Palmer in Ottawa; Editing by James Dalgleish