By Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Ottawa: The RCMP and Canada’s spy and border agencies reaped hundreds of millions of new dollars to fight terrorism in a federal budget that evoked the October killings of two Canadian soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa.
The five-year, $292.6 million commitment will give additional resources to the Mounties, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency to fight terrorism and terrorist financing.
The new money is an answer to opposition critics who say that Canada’s law enforcement apparatus has been stretched too thin.
As expected, the Conservatives used the budget to portray the government as guardians of Canadian safety, with Finance Minister Joe Oliver reminding them that Islamist jihadis “have declared war on Canada and Canadians by name.”
The budget also made a five-year, $12.5-million commitment to the Security Intelligence Review Committee “so that it can continue to provide a robust and independent review” of CSIS _ an apparent response to criticism by the NDP and Liberals that there is a lack of oversight in the government’s new anti-terrorism bill.
The budget promised $94.4 million over five years to protect Canada’s essential cybersystems and critical infrastructure from attacks. It wants to ensure the country’s “vital cybersystems remain safe and reliable” through measures to require new cybersecurity plans.
David Perry, the senior analyst for the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, said the new funding represents only a five per cent annual increase to the budget of the Department of Public Safety.
“It is extra money, but it’s not a windfall,” said Perry.
The budget also includes $60.4 million over three years to support Parliament Hill security, citing the Oct. 22, 2014, attack by a lone gunman that left a Canadian soldier dead at the National War Memorial, and the attacker dead after a shootout in the Centre Block.
It also gave the Ottawa Police Service a modest $10 million over five years to help it cope with its “unique policing environment.”
“Our government understands the present dangers, and is determined to respond responsibly, without ambiguity or moral equivocation,” Oliver said in his speech to Parliament.
He said the new funding would give the RCMP and CSIS new resources to not only investigate and prevent future terrorist attacks in Canada, but to thwart Islamic State recruiters from luring vulnerable young people from joining their cause.
Oliver also stressed the budget’s cybersecurity measures.
“Threats to Canada are not limited to jihadis with guns and bombs. We will also protect Canada’s most vital and essential services, including financial systems and communication grids,” the finance minister said.
On border security, the budget pledged to expand the use of biometrics to identify all travellers requiring visas to come to Canada.
The budget also pledged $15.7 million over five years to expand the Electronic Travel Authorization program to speed up the entry of low-risk travellers from Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania and Mexico.
That measure appears to be aimed at ending some high-profile visa disputes that could have economic consequences for the Harper government.
The visa that Canada imposed on Mexico several years ago has greatly angered its NAFTA partner. Meanwhile, the visa requirement on Romania and Bulgaria is seen by some as a an impediment towards final ratification of Canada’s massive free trade deal with the European Union.
© 2015 The Canadian Press