Canada's top Mountie wants his force to be the lead federal agency for counterterrorism, but says the Conservative government must pony up the funds for the added police work.
In a rare speech, RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said fighting terrorism is rightfully viewed as primarily a police responsibility. He argued there are clear limitations to what spy agencies and secret intelligence can accomplish in isolation.
"Counterterrorism measures based exclusively on intelligence, that fall short of evidentiary thresholds, are fraught with danger and difficulty," Mr. Elliott said. He added that "intelligence should always be gathered with one eye on following how to turn it into admissible evidence."
He stressed that only police - and not spies - have the power to put terrorists in jail. Yet the lion's share of the federal billions in post-9/11 resources went to Canada's intelligence agencies, he said, adding the RCMP got a relative pittance.
The speech amounted to a declaration of the growing ambitions of the Mounties, once akin to junior partners of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in terms of national-security investigations.
Federal security agencies all agree that teamwork is necessary to guard against threats, and that everyone has a role to play. But with a chastened CSIS facing increasing judicial scrutiny and public skepticism, the RCMP - emboldened by some recent terrorism prosecutions - is essentially calling for the ball.
"The next chapter must be written by law-enforcement," Mr. Elliott said, adding more RCMP terrorism cases are about to be launched.
An influential civil servant who was appointed two years ago to become the first civilian head of the RCMP, Mr. Elliott was the keynote speaker at a security-intelligence conference yesterday.
More resources to investigate terrorists and push the cases through the courts, he said, "would certainly be one step to enhancing security relationships with the United States."
Observers pointed out that the RCMP's emboldened stand on fighting terrorism contrasted with defensive remarks made a day earlier by the new head of CSIS. Dick Fadden had castigated Canadians for being unmindful of terrorist threats.
Wesley Wark, a professor specializing in national security matters, said he preferred the RCMP's message.
"The way to educate Canadians is not to complain about Canadians not understanding the threat, but actually to bring cases to court and win prosecutions," said Prof. Wark, who is an executive member of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies, which organized the conference.
The 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act criminalized a broad range of terrorism offences. But police investigations flowing from the new law have garnered only seven total convictions of individuals to date, all of them in the past year or so.
Mr. Elliott said al-Qaeda remains the biggest terrorist threat to Canada. Hezbollah and Tamil Tiger operatives based in Canada are also problems, he said, as are radicalized Somalis who may have fought in their homeland al-Shabab insurgent movement.
*You cannot be effective against terrorism by jailing everyone and demonizing the entire community, which you then expect to help you. Address the root causes and try to prevent and disrupt using intelligence - which is the primary reason why CSIS should be the lead agency NOT the RCMP in my respectful submission.
When it comes to clear violations of the Criminal Code of Canada - kick in the doors (if required), haul 'em out in cuffs and deliver them to the courts for prosecution.