When I began my career 30 years ago as an intelligence officer during the heart of the Cold War, the newly created Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) garnered little respect and virtually no attention.
Canada was in a very different space, with a different economy, world view (admittedly more parochial) and style of government. Outside of pop culture literature and big-budget movies, nobody was interested in spy-versus-spy capers.
Fast-forward to 2015, and we’re paying a lot of attention to national security. In fact, some would argue too much, or perhaps with the wrong emphasis—and, even worse—with potentially irresponsible motives. Questions surrounding Bill C-51 (see: Canada’s response to a globalized terrorism threat) provide a stellar example of how politicized and polarized national security issues can become.
Events over the past decade have transformed reality within the security environment—and, most important—to the perceptual safety and security lens of Canadians.
The frequency and intensity of terrorist violence; the associated events of social political upheaval; the rapid force multiplier and disruptive effects of technology—have left us feeling uncertain. And, in increasing numbers, quite fearful.
It’s no mystery why this occurred—just look at a short list of impactful milestones such as: actions taken by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq after the 9/11 tragedy; deploying the Canadian Forces and CSIS assets to Afghanistan; the ever-consequential Arab Spring democratic uprising; and multiple Canadian-based plots like the planned but never executed series of attacks in and around the Greater Toronto Area (also known as the “Toronto 18”), or the killing of a Canadian reservist as he stood guard at our National War Memorial in Ottawa.
In an age of network infotainment and almost unlimited access to uncensored social media, we’re treated to a constant barrage of horrible images and disturbing storylines. Sensationalism aside, there’s even more to keep us anxious. Take the issue of cyber threat—theft of intellectual property, financial assets and sometimes even our identity. Headlines are frequent, but we have little understanding of how it’s done, by whom or how to stop it.
Moving away from the virtual world—and back to a coldly realistic one—Canadians can’t help but take note of being “Back in the USSR” with an increasingly defensive and belligerent Putin-led regime, and a highly probable round of strategic brinkmanship in 2016.
The threat environment is more unpredictable and deadly than it has likely ever been in the modern age. So what does that all mean in the context of the national security and the 2015 federal election?
It’s important to be realistic and aware that the global threat environment has indeed been amplified—however, it’s equally important we don’t exaggerate that environment and its inherent risks. Therefore, insight is more valuable to individuals and businesses than ever before.
Canadian interests are part of an integrated global economy and will be increasingly affected by a broad spectrum of globalized threats—from cyber terrorism and data loss, to a new-era Cold War.
We also need to include secondary and tertiary areas of concern to understand our world, such as: the recent deal to reduce proliferation threats by Iran; the promise and perpetual trauma emerging out of Africa; security in the South China Sea; strategic repositioning by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; the issue of energy; and the almost overwhelming migration levels not seen since World War II.
With that as context, rest assured that the political parties vying for your vote are themselves increasingly interested in the subject. They understand the challenges ahead—from keeping Canadians safe to reducing risks to Canadian business investments that may be targeted by malicious acts.
The overarching question is: will they be responsible in responding to those challenges?
Stay tuned as we unpack threats and identify critical national security issues in advance of Election Day 2015.
Authored by: Ray Boisvert