OTTAWA—Top officials of Canada’s security agencies will be on the hot seat Monday, pressed about their investigations and resources to probe suspected domestic terror plots after last week’s fatal attacks on military personnel.
The attacks that cost two soldiers their lives promise to dominate the agenda as Bob Paulson, the commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Michael Peirce, assistant director of intelligence with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, appear before the Senate’s national security and defence committee.
Wednesday’s attack on Parliament Hill has already brought stepped-up security, and more changes will be evident Monday as the public is allowed back into the buildings for the first time for tours and to attend parliamentary debates.
Additional armed personnel are now patrolling parliamentary buildings. Uniformed Commons security staff, once unarmed, began carrying weapons over the weekend. And the Senate, which in June had decided to arm its security staff, is stepping up efforts to train personnel and acquire weapons.
The theme of Monday’s Senate meeting is security threats facing Canada. The focus is likely to be on what measures CSIS and the RCMP are taking to prevent such attacks and whether they have sufficient resources to do so.
Sen. Colin Kenny, a former chair of the committee, has his doubts, saying simply: “They don’t have the capacity to do it.”
“The phrase that is in vogue is risk management. It’s just not acceptable when you’re talking about terrorists,” Kenny told the Star Sunday.
The government and the country are reeling from two separate attacks in just three days. In the first, Martin Couture-Rouleau killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent in a deliberate hit-and-run on Oct. 20 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. He was later shot and killed by police.
Authorities say that Couture-Rouleau, designated by the RCMP as one of about 90 “high-risk travellers,” had become “radicalized.” His passport was seized after he tried to travel abroad in the summer with the alleged intention of joining foreign fighters.
On Wednesday, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a ceremonial guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. He then stormed into the Centre Block of Parliament and wounded a security guard before he was brought down by gunfire.
Police say they have no information the two attacks were linked.
Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has brushed aside questions whether the agencies have enough funding and resources to handle the rapidly expanding demands of probing potential domestic terror plots.
“As a government we have invested and beefed up those budgets,” Blaney told the Global News program West Block on Sunday.
“At this time, I have been given assurance that all the resources needed are available to keep our country safe,” Blaney said.
The government has already signalled that it intends to give CSIS broader powers to gather and share intelligence. But the question is whether the attacks will spur more sweeping changes.
“We will contemplate any additional measures that could be needed so that they have the capacity to adjust to that evolving threat,” Blaney said.
Asked about Blaney’s reassurance on resources, Kenny said, “that’s bull----.”
“It’s a little frustrating that Blaney is pretending that everything is OK,” Kenny said. “They’re not putting up the dough to match their talk.”
The 2012 federal budget detailed an annual $195-million cut to the RCMP budget, money that was to be found in administrative and support efficiencies with “minimal impacts on direct policing operations.”
Officials at both CSIS and the RCMP have suggested in recent weeks that ongoing domestic investigations are leaving them stretched thin.
Jeff Yaworski, deputy operations director at CSIS, told a Senate committee last Monday that due to “limited resources” the agency cannot provide blanket coverage of all 80 suspected Canadian terrorism sympathizers who went abroad and returned to Canada.
“There’s nothing more that we can do with the budget that we have except to prioritize internally as effectively as we can,” he said.
And Paulson told a briefing Thursday that the RCMP has boosted its 180-strong national security enforcement team by another 250 officers, pulling them off “important federal obligations” such as investigations into white-collar crimes and organized crime.
“Things are coming off the table,” Paulson said Thursday. “It’s a very labour intensive . . . It is a drain on resources.”
Also appearing at the committee Monday are RCMP officials Mike Cabana, deputy commissioner of federal policing, and Peter Henschel, deputy commissioner, specialized policing services.