(This column was published in the North Shore News on Oct. 31, 2001)


Government ditherers dismaying

By Leo Knight

WHILE standing last week waiting for an elevator in a downtown office building, I watched four young women gushing about some rollerskates they had seen in a store with, "like, I mean, fuchsia pink wheels!"


I wondered why it was they had no apparent concern for how precariously balanced the world is these days. I guess ignorance is indeed bliss.


For that matter, one wonders the same of the federal government, with the one notable exception of External Affairs Minister John Manley, who has looked much more prime ministerial of late than the man who is supposed to project that image.


The government has endeavoured to pretend it's business as usual in this country. They were interminably silent in the first couple of weeks following Sept. 11. Then they blathered on about the huge financial commitment to national security by injecting an additional $200 million into the RCMP, CSIS, Canada Customs and Immigration.


Some commitment. In the same week, Industry Minister and Chief Pretender to the Throne, Brian Tobin, announced gleefully the government was committing $1 billion to get high speed Internet to remote areas of Canada.


That's some message. A mere $200 million to the agencies responsible for protecting this country and five times that to bring the Internet to Eskimos. If government is all about priorities, then the Chretien crowd ought to reassess its priorities before there is no country to govern.


In the House last week, Minister of Immigration Elinor Caplan actually said that Canada has three times the resources protecting our borders than the United States. No, really, she said that. I'm pretty sure she was sober when she did, too.


Canada has a complement of uniformed but unarmed Customs officers. They lack the enforcement capabilities of their American cousins. The U.S. also has armed Immigration and Naturalization officers at every point of entry. We have one or two CIC officers at major entry points.


The U.S. Border Patrol Service is a separate entity which has been growing at a rate of 500 new positions per year to deal with the problems at both their northern and southern borders. They actually patrol along their borders and are augmented by a vast array of electronic detection and surveillance equipment to assist them.


We have, well, we have no such thing. Our unarmed, non-enforcement capable Customs officers have to call the local police jurisdiction to assist them with problems. Calls from the border are prioritized like any other call coming into 9-1-1. The result is Canadian Customs officers are little more than tax collectors. Which, I suppose in a moment of levity in Ottawa, is why they are now overseen by the Minister of Revenue rather than the Solicitor General.


We do have a financially strapped military with a total of 80 serviceable fighter aircraft to fly our NORAD commitments and patrol our vast northern areas as well as our borders and coastlines. The USA has major air force bases strategically located so their fighters can cover every square mile of their Northern and Southern border.


I cannot imagine a Minister of the Crown deliberately misleading Parliament. Especially from this Liberal government. Could you?


Caplan has been facing unrelenting pressure from the opposition since Sept. 11 to do something about this country being an international patsy for criminals and terrorists the world over. All she has been able to do is mouth the platitudes of the hopeless. She just doesn't seem to appreciate how serious this problem is. This is not a time for the warm-fuzziness of Liberal ideology. War is not politically correct. We, and the rest of Western civilization, are at war against an enemy who would see our very way of life destroyed.


Consider the words of Martin Collacott, a former Canadian Ambassador appearing on a PBS discussion show earlier this month: "Unless you make fundamental changes to the way in which we let people in the country so easily, you're not going to solve the problem. If you're a terrorist or a criminal and you want to settle somewhere in the West, this is the place to come."


"Once they arrive at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, with no document or with a forged document, or at the American border, we say, 'well, you got us; you're in our territory; you're into the system.' This is a perfect way for terrorists to come in.


"We've got all sorts of humanitarian, compassionate considerations and risk considerations that, even if someone's a terrorist, we don't want to put them at risk, so we don't send them back," concluded the former diplomat.


CSIS, the RCMP, the U.S. DoJ and the National Security Agency have been warning the Chretien government for years of the problem. The reality of those warnings is buried under the New York dust.


And still they dither.





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