By Jennifer Sanasie
The state of national threats in Canada should be up for public debate, according to Wesley Wark, professor at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.
By Jennifer Sanasie
Wark says the public is poorly educated on what constitutes a national
threat, and he blames the federal government for not taking the time to
educate the public on the severity of threats. This creates a “confused
and divided public, and a government that is afraid to talk bluntly to
the public out of fear of what the political consequences might be,” he
Wark spoke at the Ontario Public Sector Security Conference on June 10
at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto. His presentation, called
“Canada is less peaceful than you think,” examined national security
threats in Canada. When it comes to national security the public may be
getting left in the dark, he says.
Since 9/11, concerns about national security are more commonly
connected with terrorism. And although terrorism may be a threat on
both national and international levels, there are more damaging threats
that Canada needs to address, says Wark.
In 2004, then Prime Minister, Paul Martin released the National
Security Policy. It was drafted to be a “framework and action plan
designed to ensure that Canada is prepared for and can respond to
current and future threats.”
This policy was a way for the Liberal government to recognize Canadian
concerns and separate them from American concerns. The Canadian policy
“is much less focused on terrorism threats, less concerned with ways to
change the world and is much more inwardly focused on Canadian needs,”
says Wark, whereas the American doctrine is aggressive and militant,
and much more focused on terrorism.
Wark describes the eight national threats outlined in the National
Security Policy as radical because Canada had never attempted to make a
list like this before, and although he credits the government for
trying, he says they were listed in an “all hazards approach.”
This approach produces a laundry list of threats that have no priority
and cover a wide variety of areas. This was the inevitable result of a
variety of government agencies finding it difficult to reach a common
ground, so “everybody’s threat got thrown into the mix, and there were
no hard decisions made on priority,” Wark says.
The eight threats listed are:
2. Weapons of mass destruction
3. Failed/failing states
4. Foreign espionage
5. Natural disasters
6. Organized crime
7. Critical infrastructure vulnerabilities
Wark listed four national security threats that he thinks are more
pressing than the eight listed in the National Security Policy:
1. Climate security
2. Informational security
3. Global poverty
4. Global health
Although Global health was fourth on Wark’s list, it is a fresh concern
amongst the population with Influenza A H1N1 flu, also known as swine
flu, at a level six out of six on the World Health Organization’s
pandemic alert chart.
Wark says, “We have many global diseases that can’t be eradicated, like
malaria and polio.” And as we work towards improving global standards,
many countries are not able to provide health care to their citizens.
He says it is a common assumption that global health standards are
being improved, but many countries are sliding back as they can’t
provide sufficient health care to their citizens.
“Diseases travel as fast as humans do,” Wark says. Explaining that
during WWI diseases traveled with ships and Model T’s, but now they
have the ability to travel by air with planes. “This is scary because
there are deadly viruses out there,” Wark explains, “like swine and
avian flues.” These are dangerous because they have the capabilities to
spread from species to species.
National security is threatened by climate change for various reasons,
like circumstances of life, land mass and weather. As the arctic and
polar ices melt in both the North and South poles, Canada is affected
by rising sea levels. “It’s not hard to look at climate changes on a
global map and understand how they affect you at home,” Wark says.
Climate change brings the movements of people, and a great impact on
industrial production. The globe needs to be pro-active dealing with
these issues, and they need to create solutions to deal with the
environmental damage and degradation that has already happened, Wark
The two responsibilities that Canada has, according to Wark, are: to
come up with sensible national strategy to deal with these issues as
they impact home; and to come up with international strategy to improve
global impact of these issues
Society has a near total dependency on electronic information space.
“We’re all plugged into this electronic living and working space, but
how do you protect that space?” Wark says. Many aspects of lives are
compromised through electronic space like personal safety/identity,
privacy, anonymity, and personal freedom. “People sacrifice these
things willingly,” he says, but they need to be carefully assessed.
Massive servers like Google are contributing to climate change with the
amount of heat and energy they produce, and we may be pushing the
capacity of these systems to a breaking point.
“We have these naÃ¯ve expectations that this electronic living space is
capable of expansion and it’s always going to work for us,” Wark says,
adding that individual citizens need to think harder about how they
live in an open electronic universe, and assess whether they want it or
Global poverty is directly affected by the rapidly changing climate.
Climate change and environmental degradation have created a new
problem: as some parts of the world learn to protect themselves in the
changing climate, other parts are pushed back.
Wark describes countries in North Africa that are badly affected by
climate change, and already have existing problems and high levels of
poverty. During the climate change, these countries will only get worse.
Global poverty can lead to distorted migration, failed states, crime and conflict.
Although Wark says he doesn’t know why these threats didn’t show up on
the government list, he suggests it could have been because some
threats were too old and others too new to make an impact in 2004.
Climate change and informational security were both new threats to the
community, and global poverty and global health were so old that they
became lost amongst concerns.
“For whatever reason the government didn’t want to talk about it in the
National Security Policy, and some things that were just merging as
threats might of taken too much education and discussion to be neatly
packaged into a policy,” Wark says.
Since 2004 there has only been one update made to the policy in 2005,
“despite the promise that there would be yearly updates,” says Wark.
When the Conservatives came to power in 2006, it was promised that they
would come up with their own version of the National Security Policy;
three years later, they have failed to do so.
International security threats and national security threats tend to be
one in the same, and “it’s difficult to carve one country’s list and
say there is a set of things that will only impact Canada,” says Wark.
He explains that all the threats he listed have a direct or indirect
impact on Canada and its interests. “Global threats matter.”