Infrastructure / Special reportUnprepared: Canada lacks plan to protect critical infrastructure

Published 14 April 2008

Seven years after 9/11, Canada lacks a coherent, coordinated plan to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure; in a recent report experts dismissed natural disasters, terrorism, cyber attacks, and pandemics as the major threats to Canada; rather, the greatest threat, they said, is a “lack of clarity around governance” during a disaster

Seven years after 9/11 and repeated government promises, Canada still has no strategy to protect critical national infrastructure from terrorists, natural disasters, and other calamities. Ian MacLeod writes in the Ottawa Citizen that just this week, the Canadian government quietly discontinued classified security briefings for energy infrastructure operators. The move comes little more than a year after al-Qaeda’s Saudi wing urged North American supporters to attack Canadian oil and natural gas facilities to choke the U.S. economy. The unexplained withdrawal of Natural Resources Canada’s (NRC) participation ends one of the most lauded federal efforts and only one of its kind to help better secure the ten indispensible, interconnected sectors, from food and water to public utilities, aviation, banking, public health, and telecommunications. As is the case in the United States, more than 85 percent of those networks, physical resources, and services owned and operated by industry, the provinces, and non-government actors, so the “pens-down” bi-annual briefings were the most sophisticated example of the public-private collaboration the federal government insists is essential for national security. Private energy operators will now be without the secret-level security clearances sponsored by NRC’s Energy Infrastructure Protection Division. The authorizations allowed operators of everything from nuclear reactors to offshore drilling platforms access to classified threat assessments, advisories, and other sensitive information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS), and the government’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC).

Four years ago this month, Paul Martin’s Liberal government unveiled Securing An Open Society, Canada’s first national security policy. Amid political fanfare and apparent urgency, it called for a National Critical Infrastructure Protection Strategy to ensure that Canada’s economic and societal backbone was hardened against natural disasters, accidents, and, most importantly, the emerging terrorism threats of the post-9/11 world. A rather vague and timid Liberal government position paper the following year failed to define the concept much beyond “a national-level capacity to guide and integrate” the interests of all levels of government and owner-operators. Still, the new Conservative government embraced and promoted the concept. The Web site of Public Safety Canada, the lead federal department for critical infrastructure protection (CIP), continues to steal a page from Securing an Open Society in warning that disruption or destruction of critical infrastructure will have a “serious impact on the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians or the effective functioning of governments in Canada” (note