Canada should rethink ties with US as democratic ‘backsliding’ deepens, security experts say

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Canada’s intelligence community will have to contend with the growing influence of anti-democratic forces in the United States – including the threat posed by conservative outlets like Fox News – according to a new report by a task force of intelligence experts.

“The United States is and will remain our closest ally, but it could also become a source of threat and instability,” says a recently released report by a task force of former national security advisers, former directors of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). , former deputy ministers, former ambassadors and academics.

Now is the time for the federal government to rethink its approach to national security, the report concludes.

The authors – some of whom have gained access to Canada’s most valuable secrets and briefed Cabinet on emerging threats – say Canada has become complacent in its national security strategies and is unprepared to deal with threats like Russian and Chinese espionage, “democratic backsliding” in the United States, an upsurge in cyberattacks, and climate change.

“We believe the threats are serious enough at this time, that they are having an impact on Canada,” said report co-author Vincent Rigby, who until a few months ago was a security adviser. of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We don’t want it to take a crisis to [the] Government of Canada to wake up.

The report he helped draft indicates that one area requiring political pivot is Canada’s relationship with the United States.

Controversial Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson has taken to the convoy protests to accuse Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of declaring a “dictatorship”. (Screenshot/FoxNews.com)

Thomas Juneau, co-director of the task force and associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s School of Public and International Affairs, said that while right-wing extremism in Canada is homegrown, the cross-border connections between extremist groups are alarming.

“There are growing transnational ties between right-wing extremists here and in the United States, the money movement, the people movement, the ideas movement, the encouragement, the support of the media, such as Fox News and d ‘other conservative media’, he said.

The convoy was a ‘wake-up call’, adviser says

He pointed to Senator Doug Mastriano’s recent victory in the Republican primary for governor of Pennsylvania. Mastriano is a well-known proponent of the lie that election fraud caused the loss of former President Donald Trump in 2020.

“There are serious risks of democratic backsliding in the United States and at this point it’s not a theoretical risk,” Juneau said.

“So all of this poses a serious threat to our sovereignty, to our security and, in some cases, to our democratic institutions… We need to rethink our relationship with the United States.”

The report documents the convoy protest that occupied downtown Ottawa in February and associated blockades in a handful of border towns earlier this winter. What began as a broad protest against COVID-19 restrictions has morphed into an even larger rally against government authority itself, with some protesters calling for the overthrow of the elected government.

RCMP say at the protest site near Coutts, Alberta, they seized a cache of weapons; four people now face a charge of conspiracy to murder.

That “should be a wake-up call,” Rigby said.

“We potentially dodged a bullet there. We really did. And we hope the government and… other levels of government learned from it.”

Alberta RCMP have submitted this photo of what they say is a cache of firearms and ammunition found in three trailers near a protest blockade of the Canada-US border in Coutts, Alberta. (RCMP)

The Canadian protests drew support from American politicians and conservative media outlets, including Fox News, the report said.

“It may not have represented foreign interference in the conventional sense, as it was not the result of actions by a foreign government. But it represented, arguably, a greater threat to Canadian democracy than the actions of any state other than the United States,” the report said.

“It will be a significant challenge for our national security and intelligence agencies to monitor this threat, as it emanates from the same country that is by far our greatest source of intelligence.”

During the convoy protest, Fox host Tucker Carlson – whose show draws millions of viewers every night – called Trudeau a “Stalinist dictator” on air and accused him of “suspending the democracy and declared Canada a dictatorship”.

Carlson himself recently came under attack for pushing the concept of replacement theory – a racist concept that claims white Americans are deliberately replaced by immigration.

The theory was cited in the manifesto of the 18-year-old man charged in the mass shooting in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo, NY earlier this month.

The conspiracy theory has also been linked to previous mass shootings, including the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Call for a new national security strategy

“When we think of threats against Canada, we think of the Soviet military threat, we think of al-Qaeda, we think of the rise of China, we think of the war in Ukraine. All of this is true. growing threat to Canada posed by the United States,” Juneau said.

“It’s completely new. It calls for a new way of thinking and a new way of managing our relationship with the United States”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The report indicates that an increasingly aggressive Russia is just one of many threats to Canada’s national security. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The conversation with the United States doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, but it has to happen, Rigby said.

“It certainly wouldn’t be phrased like, ‘You are the source of our problems.’ It wouldn’t be the conversation. The conversation would be, ‘How can we help each other?'” he said.

“We’ve had these conversations during President Trump’s tenure and business continues. Does it get a little tougher when you have a president like Mr. Trump? Absolutely, no doubt. But we’re still close allies. .”

That’s why Rigby and Juneau hope the report will spur the government to launch a new national security strategy review — something that hasn’t happened since 2004.

“I know there’s some cynicism around the production of these strategies…another voluminous report that’s going to end up on a shelf and gather dust,” Rigby said.

“But if they’re done right, they’re done quickly, and they’re done effectively and efficiently – and our allies have done them – they can work and they matter.”

The report makes a number of recommendations. He wants a review of CSIS’s enabling legislation, increased use of open-source intelligence, and efforts to strengthen cybersecurity. It also urges normally secretive intelligence agencies to be more open with the public by releasing more intelligence and releasing annual threat assessments.

“There’s a new, expanded definition of national security. It’s not your grandparents’ national security,” Rigby said.

“It’s time to step out of the shadows and step up and address these challenges.”

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