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Views and Opinions

Canadian Maritime Domestic Security – An Assessment in Late 2007, Two Years Prior to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

by Peter Avis

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National Security – The Sea Matters

During the last six years in what is now recognized as a changed global security environment, Canadians have learned that national security is a modern imperative that requires profound thought, development, investment, resourcing, and, most of all, government leadership and action. The new threat ‘battlespace’ includes not just traditional state-oriented threats, but globalized, international threats such as terrorism, multinational crime organizations, disease epidemics, and natural disasters.

One effect of this changed battlespace has been the overlapping of the defence and security areas of responsibility in all western democracies. This will create difficult challenges for those who vow to secure their open societies. The fact that strategic jihadist terrorism is a growing and serious phenomenon in the post 9/11 era has not been lost. Indeed, much has been accomplished to improve national security in Canada – new legislation has been introduced, compliance to international regulations has been achieved, a reasonably ambitious resourcing plan has been instituted, and government machinery continues to adapt to the new reality.

Canadians have also learned that they must be aware of and protect their maritime interests, their coasts, and their maritime approaches. The National Security Policy of April 2004 (which is significantly introduced as a framework for national security strategy – but not a National Security Strategy), with its rather remarkable Integrated Security System approach – that includes integrated threat assessment, protection and prevention capability, effective consequence management, and evaluation and oversight machinery – highlights a six-point marine security plan. Of note, this plan gives broad strategic strokes of responsibility to government partners: Transport Canada is tasked with responsibility for marine safety, security policy coordination, and regulatory leadership; Public Safety is charged with law enforcement and policing responsibility; and Defence has the responsibility to coordinate Canada’s entire on-water response to maritime threats or developing crises in the Exclusive Economic Zone and along the coasts.

At the same time, it has been found that a Culture of Prevention, aimed at disrupting threat timelines and preventing an event, and an improved national alertness, to enable agile collaboration, would be necessary in this new security environment. This is particularly true for countries, like Canada, whose economies are dependent on trade – both cross-border and maritime.

With the Vancouver Olympics (impossibly) already less than two years hence, Canada will need to review the lessons learned in maritime security and assess the important areas that need continuing, or, indeed, urgent improvement. Moreover, the release of the US National Intelligence Estimate in mid-July 2007 revealed that al Qaeda has regenerated its attack capability as it projects itself from its new safe haven in northwestern Pakistan. It has been evident since 2002 onwards that al Qaeda is capable of attacks on vessels, ports, and offshore platforms. This opinion piece will assess current maritime security practices with a view to excite consideration for continued maritime security improvement as the Olympics draw near.

Existing Framework for Maritime Security

In the immediate years after 9/11, there was an important surge of government interest and activity focused upon maritime security. In its first five years, the Interdepartmental Maritime Security Working group (IMSWG) successfully advanced several Memoranda to Cabinet, receiving ample funding to initiate projects according to a Marine Security plan. In fact, the hallmark of this working group’s success was a risk-management matrix that compares maritime activities to circles of vulnerability. The four key activities are Domain Awareness, Collaboration, Safeguarding, and Responsiveness – and they can be defined as follows:

  • Domain Awareness: The activity that enables a nation to be aware of and comprehend what is happening and who is present in all areas of maritime responsibility. It is made up of surveillance and intelligence efforts to build a comprehendible picture of a nation’s maritime zones and interest areas – both domestic and international.

  • Safeguarding: The activity that ensures the physical security of maritime infrastructure of ports and vessels as well as other critical infrastructure in or around areas of maritime responsibility (including offshore platforms). It also enhances personnel security by creating an environment that precludes terrorist or criminal activity, and prevents potentially threatening persons or devices from entering a country or any part of its maritime system.

  • Responsiveness: The activity that executes the national will to enforce the law or to take military action to prevent imminent threats and to apprehend perpetrators. It includes all enforcement efforts of all relevant police forces, mandated security agencies, and military units – both foreign and domestic – to intercept and capture terrorists, criminals, or other threats.

  • Collaboration: The activity viewed as a critical piece of the national and maritime security system in that shared knowledge and information are integral cornerstones to prevention. It is an activity that is somewhat qualitatively different from the other three in that it can be seen as an ‘enabler’ activity for all parts of maritime security. Collaboration includes the ideas of information sharing, coordination, cooperation, and unified action for the resolution of security problems. It entails horizontal sharing of information between government departments, intelligence agencies, and law enforcement groups as well as vertical sharing between first responders, regional agencies, federal agencies, and international agencies.

When one superimposes the four activities across all the geographic circles of vulnerability, it is evident that security requirements are increasingly information-based the farther one is situated from one’s own country. However, the requirements tend to become more physical and response-oriented as one draws near home. The conclusions of this work reach into the strategic sphere, prioritizing national activity as: security of the maritime perimeter; security of internal waters (particularly the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River system) and infrastructure; and security of Arctic waters.

The value of this excellent interdepartmental work is that one can assess Canada’s progress in achieving maritime security, and highlight areas for urgent attention as 2010 draws near.

An Assessment in 2007

Since 2001, many activities have been initiated, and much funding has been disbursed to improve national and maritime security. However, if one compares the original strategic intent for maritime security, it is evident that a number of gaps have appeared – due to technological challenges, bureaucratic inertia, or lack of capacity in some departments to implement government policy in times of limited resources.

Before one assesses the various maritime security activities, it is reasonable to assess the overarching system in which maritime security finds itself. The National Security Policy provided Canada a framework for security strategy. Canada has jumped from framework to program without the necessary supporting structures to guide implementation programs. Three years later, enough has been learned and discussed to move forward as a nation to formulate a Canadian National Security Strategy – a national strategy that drops the singular focus on departmental concerns and embraces a ‘multi-pillar’ perspective in which integrated government invests resources according to an overarching national vision. After all, for instance, how can one really expect to be successfully pro-active and preventative as “the lead minister for the coordination of on-water response to a maritime threat” if one has no influence on other departmental planning schedules, nor on their business plans? To achieve the comprehensive perspective required for strategic thought, the traditional prisms or ‘stovepipes’ of bureaucratic government must be broken down – possibly by the institution of permanent, high-level, interdepartmental, strategic ‘think-tanks’ that ensure continual engagement of government in the allocation of resources over the long term. One excellent example is embodied in the Dutch strategic institution known as IDON (International Deliberations over North Sea Governance). Strategy emanates from whole-of-government debate and interdepartmental synergy.


DND photo HS2008-J018-006

Domain Awareness

Many lessons have been learned since 9/11 in the activity area of Domain Awareness. Nevertheless, one of the largest stumbling blocks is the lack of a National Maritime Domain Awareness strategy, with supporting surveillance requirements upon which to base future decisions. There are three major gaps that languish. The failure to implement High Frequency Surface Wave Radar (HFSWR), due to international regulatory restrictions, has left a large gap in the original plan for continuous and persistent surveillance. While the maritime community awaits the full capability of radar satellite technology, it is time to move on from HFSWR and to espouse a replacement technology. For coastal approaches, east, west, and arctic, research in alternative long-range radar systems (or similar capabilities) must be undertaken with allies. Moreover, advances in commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) security radar (like the Accipiter security radar system tested on the Great Lakes), have made internal waters radar systems more capable and suited to the small-target environment of harbour approaches, rivers and lakes. These new technologies must be explored and analyzed by IMSWG, in order to fill this gap in layered surveillance as originally envisioned by the IMSWG and government.

Continued and expanded utilization of civilian air contract services (such as Provincial Air Lines or PAL) combined with Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAV), will serve to bolster the positive identification portion of layered surveillance.

Finally, increased domain awareness in the Arctic has been found by interdepartmental analysis to be a priority in that region – but climate and geographic conditions complicate successful implementation. The Arctic is different and it needs special attention before resources are expended. As Stephen Bigras of the Canadian Polar Commission explains in his article in The Hill Times: “Canada’s polar research community is dispersed and diverse...Unlike our circumpolar neighbours, and many other nations active in polar science, Canada has no national policy to guide and support polar science.” Now that the government has re-energized its enthusiasm for arctic maritime security, research and development of technology that functions in the unique conditions of the polar regions must be undertaken.


Several significant gaps in this area are also apparent. The most serious gap is the absence of port policing in Canada. Senator Colin Kenny states in the Canadian Security Guide Book 2007 edition – Seaports: “The current situation at Canada’s ports is untenable. The RCMP has not even been adequately funded to put meaningful contingents of officers at the ports of Halifax, Montreal, and Vancouver.” The National Port Enforcement Teams that came forward from IMSWG deliberations as intelligence and investigative units (and not patrol units) are drastically understaffed and not adequately specialized. It is noteworthy that The Netherlands has learned that securing borders and seaports (including freshwater ports) must be treated as a national responsibility. Therefore, the RCMP should be told to complete its ongoing study immediately, and to be funded to initiate a federally run port police approach (that it would cost-share with provincial and local police when possible) for the major ports that are crucial to trade and ferry traffic. Senator Kenny suggests that there are roughly 20 of these ports. As an urgent priority, this approach should be engaged in Vancouver, which would allow maturation time prior to the 2010 Olympics.

The IMSWG found that security requirements are increasingly information-based the farther one is located from one’s own country. A second Safeguarding gap is the lack of Canadian security intelligence capability in the world’s major seaports. Just as the Australians have shown us with their use of ASIS (the Australian Secret Intelligence Service) in foreign seaports around the world, it is better to learn about a threat to Canada when it is far away from our shores. As CSIS increases its security intelligence operations abroad, a significant part of this effort should be aimed at placing CSIS personnel in selected major maritime ports to gather intelligence that pertains to Canadian maritime security.


The activity area of Responsiveness came to the fore in the National Security Policy, when one point of the six-point plan to strengthen marine security was focused upon “...increasing on-water patrols to better position the RCMP, Coast Guard and the Canadian Forces Maritime Command to intervene, interdict, and board ships that may pose threats to Canada.”

After three years, there is still much to be accomplished on this front. While there have been a number of valuable exercises on the coasts and in the Arctic, along with the institution of Marine Security Enforcement Teams on the Great Lakes since July 2005, there still exist numerous gaps. Most pernicious of these is the legal restriction for integrated forces to operate together for routine, non-targeted operations. Naval ships have been stopped from going to sea for sovereignty patrols with RCMP officers on board due to a law that requires such integration to be carried out only during specific, targeted operations against a known threat. This restriction will fetter integrated operations unnecessarily when longer-term surveillance and sovereignty patrols are necessary prior to and during the 2010 Olympics. This concern must be debated and abated.

For mature responsiveness, law enforcement departments must be working (not just exercising) with on-water departments on a regular basis. This means that exercises should eventually alter into regular integrated operations that can be focused on risk-management solutions, based upon intelligence and awareness. The vessels that are starting to be received by the Navy and the Coast Guard must be utilized for both training and operations – integrated operations with other government departments, so that the inshore patrol requirements of domestic maritime security are fulfilled. The 2010 Olympics will require a robust and layered maritime security organization that will highlight minor vessels and port security units integrated with law enforcement officers to provide presence and quick response. Furthermore, it also means that promised modifications like the support for carriage, launching, and recovery of RCMP Emergency Response Team boats from DND’s Canadian Patrol Frigates, must take place quickly.

Finally, if Canada were to follow Norway’s example by integrating military Special Operations Forces teams with elite police response units for maritime security, a strong synergy could be attained. This training and operational integration would provide precision-targeted specialist response on the coasts and on the Great Lakes to terrorist threats to ports, vessels, and, significantly, to offshore oil and natural gas platforms.


The IMSWG has received strong interdepartmental leadership from Transport Canada, and it has obtained generous funding for maritime security. One excellent initiative is a recent IMSWG Collaboration Fund project that is looking at a marine security surveillance protocol. However, the five-year funding envelopes are coming to a close and the struggle for continuous improvement is flagging. IMSWG has grown again in size due to project implementation with attendant reporting processes, and has become immersed in bureaucratic inertia. A ‘scrub-down’ of this excellent organization, including an updated master plan, is needed to ensure that its excellent ideas are transformed into security improvements. Apparently, the IMSWG is currently carrying out a gap analysis on Canada’s marine security. This needs to be fast-tracked.

The first concrete idea for practical collaboration at the tactical level came through IMSWG in the form of the Maritime Information Management Data Exchange system (MIMDEX). This system was expected to furnish a maritime security network in which all members could bring together necessary security information about maritime threats, and alert other departments to targets of potential interest. Unfortunately, as the recent review the Arar Commission attests, the MIMDEX system is not operational at the time of writing – even after Senator Kenny’s committee exhorted departments to fast-track this initiative in two reports. The problem is not technological; rather, it is the inability, or unwillingness to alter legislation pertaining to individual departmental mandates, or, indeed, the Charter of Rights and the Privacy Act, on the issues of information sharing and interoperability. This issue is so important for the new security environment that a government-led, coordinated debate is required. The preventative, integrated approach to national security that is envisioned in the 2004 National Security Policy will not be optimized unless such a debate occurs.

In a similar fashion, the Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOCs), which have been initiated on the two coasts and in the Great Lakes, are beleaguered with limitations upon individual department’s ability to share with each other. As in the Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC), the participating departments in these facilities have access to their own databases only – they cannot interconnect database information in order to ‘connect the dots.’ Security experts, including Senator Kenny, have reiterated continually the importance of this cross-government capability to share and alert in the new battle space.


We have seen that there are obvious gaps in the fabric of Canadian maritime security, due to stalled initiatives, and also due to a better understanding of the post-9/11 security environment. Of particular importance at this juncture – less than two years before the opening of the 2010 Olympics – is the ‘hair-raising’ pittance of dedicated funding for security at the Olympics. While ample activity with regard to infrastructure and promotion of the Games is in motion, the full extent of security funding for this nation-building event has not been seriously contemplated. Considering that Athens spent over $1 billion on security alone for hosting the Summer Olympics (and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics over $400 million), Canada has an urgent need to dedicate serious funding toward an integrated and shared (public/private) security effort. The next federal budget is not too soon for this investment – huge pressure has already been mounting from both the International and US Olympic Committees.

In order to achieve national security, a full-fledged National Security Strategy, with a long-term approach toward resource investment, is needed before Canada hosts the Olympics. To shape the environment for successful implementation of programs, there needs to be greater effort and time placed on study and analysis of the right issues – and then action and follow-through to ensure implementation follows the master plan. If Canadians get it right, they can take the National Security Policy and lessons learned in security, superimpose them over the 2010 Olympic security challenge, fund and resource a focused implementation plan upon this ‘nation-building’ event, and then use the resulting model as a framework for security best practices across Canada in the new era. The clock is ticking.

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Captain (N) Peter Avis is currently Commander Maritime Operations Group Four in Esquimalt, BC. He has worked in Ottawa with the Interdepartmental Marine Security Working Group (IMSWG), Privy Council Office, and the Strategic Joint Staff at NDHQ, and is the author of the book, Comparing National Security Approaches to Maritime Security in the Post 9/11 Era.

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