Photo: The Canadian press
Wesley Wark, Security Intelligence Expert
It was the last in a list of eight threat scenarios, but the danger of a global pandemic was cut when the Liberal government released a national security policy in 2004.
In light of the then-recent SARS epidemic, the government has said that it will integrate its approach to public health emergencies into its national security agenda, including when writing threat assessments.
The promise was not kept, leaving Canada horribly exposed during the COVID-19 crisis, said security and intelligence expert Wesley Wark.
“Despite the idea that we were going to do this with national security policy, it never happened,” said Wark, visiting professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. .
Rather, Canada had to rely on open source information, including assumptions about accurate and timely reports from countries like China that were at risk of suffering from the epidemic, he said in an interview.
“Regarding COVID-19, there was no early warning, and we are seeing the consequences. “
Did it really matter? All you had to do was turn on the news to see the empty streets of Wuhan and the growing numbers of victims.
Wark contends that a careful analysis of the information, including satellite images of the allies, could have revealed signs such as Chinese military movements, the sudden establishment of medical facilities and activities around funeral homes – “a picture of the crisis which, clearly, the Chinese authorities, in the early days, were not anxious to advertise. “
In mid-January, the determination that COVID-19 could hit Canada hard would have given the country a head start, allowing it to enact a strict travel ban, issue a stay at home vacation notice March, replenish the national emergency stock and begin purchasing personal protective equipment for health workers, he said.
Leaks indicate that the US intelligence community may have warned the White House in January of the severity of the epidemic in China.
When asked about media reports that Beijing falsified data on COVID-19, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland recently said that Canada was turning to the World Health Organization for information on viruses, being given that a global response to the pandemic was essential.
“That said, Canada is a very strong member of the Five Eyes and we have a very close and very important security and intelligence partnership with the United States in the Five Eyes, in NATO and in NORAD,” said Freeland said at a press conference. .
“One reason we can have these conversations, which are very important in the crisis the world is going through today, is because these conversations have been in private. And so I am not able to share the details of what is discussed in these conversations. “
During daily briefings, Canadian officials suggested that it would be possible to take stock and exercise on lessons learned when the COVID-19 crisis ends.
Canada was better placed than many countries to respond to this pandemic because it had learned from the experience of SARS, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday.
“Likewise, as we go through this period, we will learn more about how to be even better prepared next time if it happens again, as it will likely happen in the coming decades. “
Wark says lessons must be learned and applied immediately.
“National security intelligence advisers should spin as much of the security intelligence community as possible to say,” We are in the global business of declaring pandemics from now on. And we will stay in this area when we are going through this crisis. ”