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PoliticsLawrence MacAulay Reads the Riot Act...But Is He The Right Man For The Job?

Lawrence MacAulay Reads the Riot Act...But Is He The Right Man For The Job?

Lawrence MacAulay Reads the Riot Act...But Is He The Right Man For The Job?

Clearly, no minister of the federal cabinet was caught more in the headlights of September 11 than Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay. Up to that time, if the lacklustre performance of the MP for Cardigan, Prince Edward Island, left you wondering what exactly a solicitor general does, you were not alone.

After that date, however, the political head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was thrust onto the public stage like no one else of his colleagues in cabinet. And, despite early concerns that he was in over his head in ministerial responsibilities, by most accounts he performed adequately. Whatever one concludes, there is no doubt that MacAulay's job—as leader of national security during Canada's most serious national security crisis since the Cuban missile threat almost 40 years ago — required some tough decision-making, and long, long hours.

During an exclusive Ottawa Life interview, MacAulay resisted the suggestion that he was the most important minister immediately after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. However, he did admit to doing more work in the wake of these unimaginable atrocities than at any time since he was first elected to the House of Commons 14 years ago.

"I left home on September 9th for a federal-provincial conference, and I am going home in an hour's time he said at the start of our mid-November interview, keenly anticipating a reunion with his wife and three adult daughters, two of whom are in Nova Scotia. "I have not spent much time [in the Maritimes] since the first of September.”

Along with his boss, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, MacAulay shared the thankless job of reassuring a very jittery nation. Within a day of the attacks, he pledged full support to the American security and intelligence agencies, and within three weeks, he had signed security agreements and conferred with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on a number of high-profile issues.

If MacAulay slipped at all in his surprise role, it was on November 6 when he proudly announced that CSIS had managed to intercept crucial terrorist communications, intelligence that led to Americans being warned of another possible attack. Actually, he bragged to reporters about the CSIS success in influencing U.S. action, a move that sparked immediate criticism from opposition MPs, academics and security experts.

Though no specific details were disclosed, critics complained that he blabbed without a good reason, and, in the meantime, possibly announced to terrorists that they should find ways to avoid being over-heard by CSIS while they are transmitting messages.

Asked if he was embarrassed by the incident, MacAulay insisted there was nothing to be embarrassed about. On the contrary, he said: "I think Canadians should be proud. I didn't say anything about what [CSIS] did or what the information was, nor would I. But it is important to note that we are one of the players. And we do our part worldwide. And we will continue to do so.

"I think it is important that the Canadian people are aware that, number one, we spend millions of dollars in security intelligence in this country and [that CSIS] plays a substantial role in security intelligence around the world.”

What he revealed, he continued, "was certainly not news to any of the security agencies anywhere. In fact, CSIS is a very important player in the intelligence com-munity worldwide and it is important that we know that. I don't think we should be offended that we spend millions of dollars in order to make sure that we have a safer place to live.

"You can't be scared," he emphasized. "The fact of the matter is we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans. We are going to do everything we can to make sure that the terrorists are brought to justice. I have said this publicly many times. The Prime Minister has said this publicly many times. We are here to help.”

On the other hand, when it comes to cabinet secrecy and solidarity, MacAulay is 100 percent a team player. Asked about a rumour that the cabinet security committee was going to be disbanded because of conflict among the ministers over resources needed for security and the military, he professed complete ignorance.

"I am not sure what you mean about conflict," he said. "Do you mean, like, we disagree? No. Simply no. What goes on in cabinet committee is a brisk discussion of issues. That is what takes place on this committee, an excellent committee.”

To be disbanded soon? "That is up to the gods, or the prime minister," he responded vaguely. "These evaluations are made [carefully], as was the evaluation to [put] the committee in place. And it is certainly not for me to decide when it would or would not be disbanded.

"I probably shouldn't say this, [but] from what I heard from the prime minister, the committee will operate as long as is needed. There is certainly no conflict. I couldn't see that.”

Spoken like a true politician, which he has been since 1988. Before his current appointment—which includes such low-profile roles and fancy titles as: Minister of Aboriginal Policing; Minister of Integrated Justice; Minister of Government On-Line; and Minister of the Strategic Operations Directorate—MacAulay served as Minister of Labour and Secretary of State for Atlantic Canada Opportunities. In opposition, MacAulay was associate critic for Fisheries and Oceans and Official Opposition Critic for Seniors. Nor did his pre-politics farming and business background prepare him for the wartime leadership role he has been thrust into.

What he lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm for his police officers. "They are very efficient," he stated emphatically, "the most efficient police force in the world. If I am not mistaken, the RCMP is the second most noted symbol in the world. Not in Canada, in the world."

Unlike many politicians, MacAulay seems to prefer to toil for his constituents out of the spotlight, away from the probing eyes of the national media, unless otherwise required. "Well, I've been noticed, I guess," he said, adding that September 11 was not his first crisis. "I started [this portfolio] with APEC (the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum). There was a fuss on when I arrived:' He was referring to the public interest hearing into the conduct of the RCMP in using pepper spray at the 1997 APEC meeting in Vancouver. The final report from the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP wasn't released until last August, just in time for a short reprieve before September 11 grabbed his complete agenda.

More recently, MacAulay presided over security at the G-20 financial ministers meeting held in Ottawa, after only about four weeks of planning. India had backed out of hosting the international event over fears of terrorism.

The conference added stress to the security agencies. "Of course [it did]," he agreed. "All the conferences do. We [only have] so many police officers, and they get these extra duties. But we have enough people within the system."

He explained that the RCMP coordinates the security for such events, including with provincial and municipal forces. "The [local] Ottawa police force also deserves a lot of credit," he noted. "The officers did an excellent job here."

The RCMP comprises a specially-trained unit for dealing in international conference security. Such events inevitably attract the same variety of protesters: peaceful and legitimate, crazy but harm-less, and the violent ones. Ottawa attracted about 2,000 of the former types, and fewer than 10 protesting criminals.

According to Ottawa Police staff sergeant Leo Janveau, the G-20 meeting went off without a hitch. "I am proud of the way the 600 officers of the joint team — the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP, the Toronto police and the Ottawa police —showed patience and restraint through-out the weekend," he said. "We received e-mails and phone calls praising our efforts.”

In fact, what looked like it might become a repetition of the rioting at the recent global meetings in Seattle and Quebec City—where protesting mobs broke down security fences and committed other wanton acts of destruction—ended up being tame by comparison.

Which made MacAulay proud as punch: "The officers did an excellent job. In Quebec and other places, we put on a world-class show in terms of how security should be done:' And he has no worries about the G-8 event next year in Kananaskis, Alberta, where he will be deploying some 3,500 RCMP officers to protect citizens, property and such world leaders as the President of the United States and the Russian President.

Not wanting to predict publicly how many protesters and hooligans will attend the Alberta gathering, MacAulay has complete confidence in his under-lings. The RCMP always does "a pretty accurate assessment" of the numbers expected, he said. "And of course [the Mounties] will use the local police force. We already have an agreement with the City of Calgary Police Force, which will be very much involved."

His confidence notwithstanding, MacAulay is fully aware of the learning curve for his police officers. "Everything in security changed after Seattle," he said. "And of course, September 11th changed everything too."

He was asked about the government's reversal after being adamant about not having a sunset clause in the anti-terrorism legislation. Quite simple. "I don't think it should come as an awful shock that we listened to people," he quipped. "That is what the [system] is there for. You put the legislation in place, the most efficient legislation that you feel is needed to fit the times. And of course, I think we have the best parliamentary system in the world. We have a lot of checks and balances, and a lot of evaluations.

"Very seldom does a piece of legislation go through without some changes, one way or another. It is not a dramatic event. For me to say why we did or didn't change the bill, it is because we have an excellent system of evaluation. It is part of the process.

"We have committees of the House of Commons where Members of Parliament are very efficient and where many times, changes are made in legislation, what we feel are good changes. [In this case], we feel we have brought a very strong piece of legislation that provides the security that is required.”

Then there is the Senate, often regarded as the patronage chamber for aging and deteriorating government loyalists. "I have been before the Senate a number of times," said MacAulay. "Some people think it is a very quiet, laid-back area. Just go down there with a piece of legislation and find out how laid-back [the Senators] are. They are on the ball. They do their job. They are very efficient."

To go along with his added responsibilities after September 11, MacAulay was also handed an immediate infusion of money. The RCMP received interim funding of $64 million in mid-October, at about the same time as CSIS was handed $10.25 mil-lion. In the December budget, his forces were promised some $1.6 billion over the next five years.

Is it ever enough? "Everybody wants money," MacAulay said. "It is important to note that there is not a totally endless supply. Good measures are being taken and it has been clearly stated that what needs to be done will be done. There is a limit to our means. There is a limit to every country's means.”

But is there a limit to the terrorists' means?

By: Lynne Cohen

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