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The Future of Intelligence in Canada-U.S. Relations

The Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs and the Canada Institute hosted a roundtable discussion on bilateral relations in the realm of intelligence. Reid Morden, former director of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), discussed the future of intelligence in Canada in the context of cross-border security priorities since 9/11.

Date & Time

Nov. 8, 2005
6:00am – 8:30pm

The Future of Intelligence in Canada-U.S. Relations

The Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars co-sponsored a roundtable with the Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs on "The Future of Intelligence." The roundtable, with Reid Morden, former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) and former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, as guest speaker, took place in Toronto on November 8, 2005. This program coincided with the launch of the Canada Institute's most recent One Issue, Two Voices publication on "Threat Perceptions in the United States and Canada," which addresses public attitudes toward risk and security in both countries, a recurrent theme in the discussion at the Couchiching roundtable.

In his half-hour presentation, Morden incisively covered a broad spectrum of intelligence and security issues. He stressed the similarities in the U.S. and Canadian approaches to combating terrorism. Although the two governments have policy differences over ballistic missile defense and the Iraq war, the two countries have comparable legislation to fight terrorism—the Anti-Terrorism Act in Canada and the Patriot Act in the United States. Morden talked about the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, describing it as a framework for mutual dependence and complimentary initiatives on a range of policy issues, including intelligence and law enforcement cooperation.

Morden emphasized that in both countries, now and in the foreseeable future, safety and security concerns would trump the costs to civil liberties and privacy, which would mean more rather than fewer measures to fight terrorism. He pointed out that we have the same embedded security ethic but for different reasons—the U.S. outlook on threat being driven mainly by terrorism, and the Canadian outlook by a multidimensional spectrum of threats ranging from environmental disasters to organized crime. Morden noted that whereas the United States was more worried about another terrorist attack on its soil, Canada was more concerned about the resulting economic damage from such an eventuality. Morden cautioned his audience, however, that being a close ally of the United States made Canada and Canadians a target of terrorism, and that Canadians, as a target of opportunity, needed to be prudent about protecting themselves. In no uncertain terms he warned that attacks will come in the future.

In describing how the nature of terrorism has changed, Morden pointed out that in the past terrorism was blamed on immigrant groups which imported their violence in contrast to today's terrorism which is prompted by our own policies and actions at home. The message that the intelligence community must convey to its citizens in this new world is that the execution of an attack on Canadian soil is a reality. In this regard, Morden went on to discuss the issue of leadership on the part of the RCMP and CSIS, and their role in explaining their operations involving the new threat posed by second and third generation terrorists. He said that to ensure the integrity of the bureau, and to maintain the public's trust in the intelligence services, there needs to be open debate about the methods they use to carry out their mission. There was discussion about how the United States was a much more open a society than Canada with greater debate on public issues such as intelligence gathering, and how Canada turn could benefit from being more forceful and decisive on security issues.

During the question period roundtable participants, made up of academics, businessmen and students, queried Morden about whether he thought the threat of terrorism was exaggerated in the United States. He replied that the perceived threat in the United States was very palpable and real.

In conclusion, Morden told his audience that the intelligence business today was not about who you like but about where you pursue your interests. This prompted a final question about the purpose of a security service today. Morden replied that there had been a sea change in focus from counter espionage in the days of the cold war to counter terrorism today which was much broader in scope and more difficult to define.

Hosted By

Canada Institute

Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship.     Read more


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