Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Number of Canadian radicals kept under wraps

 Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson speaks to media after a public safety committee meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 6, 2015. (REUTERS/Blair Gable)

Hey, what right would the people have to know if someone moved in next door wants to cut their head off as long as we know who the sexual offenders are in the neighborhood, right?

The story comes from the Toronto Sun.

Number of Canadian radicals kept under wraps

The RCMP and CSIS won’t update Canadians about the number of radicals they’re tracking. It could be decreasing. It could be increasing. They won’t say.

This is no doubt cold comfort for people wondering just how safe their country is following the Paris attacks. After all, ISIS has mentioned Canada as a target.

As I reported Monday, the latest issue of the terror group’s promotional magazine reiterated calls for adherents to attack Western countries, including Canada.

At a press conference last Wednesday, neither RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson nor CSIS director Michel Coulombe gave updated numbers to reporters. Sun Media received the same response to requests made Monday.

In October 2014, Coulombe revealed to a Senate committee that there were 130 to 145 Canadians overseas engaged in terror.

Around the same time, the RCMP revealed they were watching 90 people who were either planning to go abroad for terror purposes or had already returned.

Then this past April, Coulombe again appeared before senators addressing the issue: “That overall number is slowly increasing, with the sharpest increase in Iraq and Syria. In fact, over the last three or four months, we have probably seen an increase of 50% in the number of people who have left for Iraq and Syria.”

Clearly a lot can happen over the course of a few months. The tally could be completely different now, at a time when Canadians could certainly do with assurances and more information.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office said they wouldn’t comment on an operational matter.

But Erin O’Toole, the public safety critic, thinks the information should be disclosed.

“I think the numbers should be shared so that people know that this is a real phenomenon,” the Conservative MP said in a phone interview.

O’Toole added it’s especially important to know these numbers because Canadian Forces members abroad may end up engaging with these radicals: “We’re talking a military deployment to a region where there are actually Canadians on the ground as enemy combatants.”

What justification do our agencies have for not revealing this information?

“The number of people currently under investigation does not provide a comprehensive picture of the threat, and therefore the RCMP does not provide an updated number for now,” RCMP spokesman Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer explained to me Monday, via e-mail. “Most important is that the RCMP is always re-evaluating these files to ensure that they are prioritized according to risk.”

Senator Daniel Lang, chairman of the Senate committee on national security and defence, doesn’t agree with such rationales. A major report on countering terrorism he co-authored recommends keeping the public regularly up to speed.

The report, released in July, says the public should be provided with “clear, quantitative, and unambiguous” information. That’s not what CSIS and the RCMP currently offer.

“We feel Canadians should be updated on a regular basis in respect to the threats Canada is facing,”

Lang, Conservative senator for the Yukon, explained via phone: “I don’t think it’s too much to ask because there is updating done in other countries and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be done here.”

This past weekend, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls explained to his country that there are over 10,000 people on their country’s list of radicals who are considered a threat to national security.

So far, the only assurances concerned Canadians have received from their own government and security services are the equivalent of “Relax, we’re taking care of it.” They’re not the most relaxing words.

The Liberal government should consider adopting the Senate report’s recommendations on proactive disclosure. A little information will go a long way in the eyes of the public.

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