Canada should heed bin Laden's warning
Date: Sunday, November 17 2002
Topic: International News
Even if it wasn't Osama bin Laden's voice on Tuesday's taped warning, experts say al Qaeda almost certainly has Canada in its sights. They say the chilling message must jolt the government into action.
"For the very first time in living history Canadians have been fingered as a potential terrorist target by a major terrorist group," said Alan Bell, a Toronto-based security consultant. "We're front and centre now."
Bell, who served for 12 years in Britain's special forces, more commonly know as the SAS, says if Tuesday's audio tape is confirmed as originating from bin Laden, then Canada's next move should be trying to determine when and where al Qaeda will strike against Canada.
"It is a wake-up call from the fact that we know our country has been mentioned by bin Laden, which means is he going to take a run at the country or is he going to target Canadian interests overseas?"
Tuesday's message in Arabic, which many experts believe was recorded by bin Laden, warned that six countries, including Canada, are now considered to be targets of al Qaeda because of their support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
"What caused your governments to join America in attacking us in Afghanistan? I mention in particular Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Australia," the voice on the tape says.
"We had warned Australia about its participation in Afghanistan .... It ignored the warning until it woke up to the sound of explosions in Bali," it warns.
Two Canadians were among the more than 180 people killed in October at the Indonesian resort. Many of the other victims were Australians.
Deputy Prime Minister John Manley said Wednesday threats of terrorism against Canada are being taken seriously. But he added he didn't think "Canadians need to take any special precautions at the present time."
Prof. Wesley Wark, an expert in Canadian and international intelligence at the University of Toronto, says the warning "should be" a wake-up call, "but there aren't any signs that Ottawa has particularly woken up to it."
Even if bin Laden's voice was not on the tape, Wark says Canada should not dismiss the threat that al Qaeda poses.
"Al Qaeda may not have the will at the moment to launch attacks in Canada, but Canada has been put on notice," Wark said. "(Canada) should pay attention to this warning and to take some precautionary measures on the part of the government."
Bell, for one, doesn't place much faith in Ottawa's ability to react properly to the threat.
"It's only going to be a matter of time," he said. "Guys like me have been saying that for some time."
"We've been criticizing the government's inability to recognize the fact that we're putting our citizens at risk purely by the fact of inactivity."
Dr. James Young, commissioner of public security for Ontario, denies that politicians have downplayed the terrorist threat against Canada.
"Our assumption since Sept. 11, 2001, has been that Canada, and Ontario in particular, might be a terrorist target,'' Young said in an interview.
"The statement confirms to some extent -- if it's real -- what we've already been saying and thinking. 'Joe Blow should not panic.' What Joe Blow needs to understand though is that we can't be complacent.''
Wark says only good intelligence and the ability to target terrorist groups will stop terrorism.
"Canada shares the same type of vulnerabilities as countries such as the U.S. and Britain," Wark said. "What is crucial, given the limited nature of our intelligence capacity, is to make sure we're fully plugged into the intelligence of our allied partners."
However, Bell worries that a determined terrorist will always slip through the net and strike. He says Canada must spend more time preparing for a domestic response to terrorism.
"Since Sept. 11, the (U.S.) National Guard is positioned in almost every large U.S. city," Bell said. "If we had a situation in downtown Toronto it would probably take five to six hours before we had any support from (Canadian Forces Base) Petawawa and it would take between 48 and 72 hours to get the militia up and running.
"We're relying on police and fire for our emergency response. The government has been like most politicians -- when there's a problem they've thrown millions of dollars at it. But has it gone to the right agencies?"
Military incapable: report
On Wednesday, The Canadian Press obtained a report prepared for the military suggesting Canada's piecemeal emergency response system is incapable of handling a major attack or large-scale disaster.
"Even if it were possible to distribute cases nationwide in an instant, a major disaster which created 3,000 urgent or critical cases would break the entire system,'' says the report obtained by CP through Access to Information.
Six months before the Sept. 11 attacks, Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced the creation of the Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness, a civilian organization under the auspices of the Department of National Defence.
Max London, an OCIPEP spokesman, says bin Laden's threat hasn't sparked a sudden flurry of activity in the agency.
"We tend to be prepared for all things at all times," London said. "But we're assessing the situation and working closely with security agencies."
London said more than 80 per cent of the critical infrastructure in Canada is privately owned and operated and that the agency is mandated to work more closely with industry to make sure they're prepared for all types of disasters. However, he hasn't noticed an increase in requests for information since Sept. 11.
Bell says he's not surprised by the complacency among corporate Canada. His company, Globe Risk Holding, advises international companies on how to boost security.
While many companies, particularly those operating overseas or those aligned with U.S. companies, do take security seriously, he says some do not take the terrorist threat seriously.
"The first thing I tell them to do is undertake a vulnerability assessment," Bell said. "Some don't even do that. They just hire a couple of extra security guards or alarm a door."
London says OCIPEP is urging all Canadians to take emergency preparation seriously and would like to see every Canadian family create its own emergency plan. The agency publishes several documents dealing with different disasters, including one called "Expect the Unexpected" that deals with terrorism.
Meanwhile, the C.D. Howe Institute issued a report Wednesday calling on Ottawa to bolster efforts at screening and monitoring foreign visitors in order to keep out terrorists and criminals.
The report, by immigration lawyer Peter Rekai, applauds the federal government for its tougher checks for refugees.
But Rekai says "sophisticated wrongdoers" will simply
enter the country as tourists or business travelers or international students. He says this group is "granted generous access to North America."
Rekai says he doesn't want to restrict the inflow of visitors or temporary workers. He says Ottawa should devote more resources to visa compliance and tracking. He says the U.S. is far ahead of Canada in this area.
Security and border issues are expected to top the agenda Thursday when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Ottawa for a meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.
Graham will be seeking clarification on recent changes to U.S. border security that has, among other things, resulted in some Canadians born in middle eastern countries being fingerprinted and photographed and forced to register at U.S. border checkpoints.
In another case, a Canadian citizen returning home from an overseas business trip was detained in New York and eventually deported to his native Syria.
The U.S. backed down slightly after Canadian protests, saying country of origin won't automatically result in registration but said a Canadian passport is not a guarantee that registration won't be requested.
Bell says Canadian politicians should not be criticizing the Americans for plugging leaks in border security.
"We share the longest border with the most hated country in the world, from the perspective of Islamic fundamentalists," Bell said. "I believe the U.S. is doing what they doing either because we're not moving fast enough or not making quick enough decisions, so they're saying 'screw you, were going to do it ourselves.'"
By Rob Gilroy, CTV News Staff