Civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby, criticizing the sweeping powers given to Canada's security and law enforcement agencies in the nation's new anti-terrorist bill, said the country's security problems were caused not by a lack of legal powers, but by the "stupidity" of its intelligence agencies.
But according to Paule Gauthier, the Quebec lawyer who heads the civilian agency that oversees the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, what plagues Canada's version of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is a lack of resources, not a lack of dedication.
After years of budget and staffing cuts, Gauthier told a Parliamentary committee that it now takes up to two years to process background checks on people seeking permanent residency in Canada.
In its annual report, the Security Intelligence Review Committee noted that the intelligence agency conducted 288,000 background checks on potential immigrants, refugee claimants and citizenship applicants. That number does not include background checks on people seeking higher security clearance for government or airport jobs.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan ordered the agency to start conducting in-depth screening of all refugee claimants as soon as they enter Canada, rather than after their claim was reviewed.
But Ottawa's expectations are not practical, given the agency's resources, Gauthier said.
"It's very important they have trained and qualified staff," she said, noting that the $6.4 million (U.S.) added to the agency's budget is mainly for new equipment.
The committee report also found that the agency's liaison officers posted in foreign capitals such as Moscow often work in substandard conditions with poor physical facilities and an "onerous workload" arising mainly from the large numbers of immigration and visa applications requiring security screening.
According to the agency's annual report last year, its staff was cut by nearly one-third, from nearly 3,000 to 2,100, from 1992 to 1998, while its budget fell from $156 million (U.S.) to $122 million.
In asking Parliament for more funding, agency Director Ward Elcock said conducting more covert operations and meeting enhanced security demands mean that the agency's operations will be more expensive.
Elcock said the agency operates much the same way as the CIA, and he pledged to ensure that Canadians get "a bang for their buck."
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Guiliano Zaccardelli said his force also needs more funding to hire and train more officers.
He's not the only one. Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino wants $4 million (U.S.) to set up a permanent squad of 30 detectives to spy on suspected terrorists.
But Zaccardelli said the $6 million (U.S.) in new funding he expects from Ottawa shouldn't be seen in isolation.
Police forces and security agencies need to work more closely together, he said, adding that the multidisciplinary and integrated investigation teams already in place in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia should be expanded across the country.