Denial is a bad security policy

The appearance of CSIS director Richard Fadden before a special sitting of the House of Commons public safety committee revealed a problem. We seem unable to think logically about national security.

Let me pose three simple questions. Do you think foreign governments ever attempt to gain influence over legislators in order to affect policy or acquire information? Do you think they ever do so through a combination of innocent-looking favours and appeals to ancestral loyalties? Do you think it ever works?

No sensible person could answer no to any of these questions. But taken in sequence they demonstrate that Fadden's concerns are justified.

It is true that the picture is complicated by what the CSIS head called the "level of granularity" of his charges. What he meant, in English, was that he referred with possibly spurious precision to cabinet ministers in at least two unspecified provinces and several unidentified municipal politicians in B.C.

If he does not have solid evidence against particular individuals it was both foolish and irresponsible to say it the way he did. If he does, please note, there may be security or even legal reasons why he cannot make this evidence public. But either way what he said is happening is happening, and we all know it. Right?

So I have a fourth question: Do we care? It amazes me how many people seem to think it does not matter whether foreign nations are manipulating ethnic loyalties and employing junkets to the old country and such sugar-coated bribe-like objects to suborn Canadian legislators. It only matters if someone complains about their doing so.

Not everyone has taken that position. In this newspaper last weekend Liberal Senator Colin Kenny wrote "Fadden did Canadians a service by pointing out that too many Canadian politicians are effectively on other countries' dole." If you do not agree, do you deny the bit about the dole, or that he did us a service by mentioning it? No, no, don't change the subject.

Too late. They already did. It was tragicomic to see Bloc Québécois MP Maria Mourani demand, "Who are the traitors in the current political class, Mr. Fadden?" But to be fair, the BQ makes no secret of working to dismember Canada at your expense. The far more unpleasant part came when he responded that there was no question of treason and she snapped "You don't use the word 'traitor' but I'll say it."

As Fadden tried to explain, the issue is not blunt appeals to politicians to commit treason that would probably backfire. It is subtle and insidious attempts to seduce them into inappropriate conduct without ever creating a bright line they might refuse to cross.

I'm not saying it is always wrong to accept a trip or other favour. But it is wrong to do so in ways that might be compromising, including not saying anything. When I went to Israel on the dime of the Canada-Israel Committee, I made a point of disclosing that fact in commentary about the trip. Which is my cue to mention that I was recently hired as managing editor at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Though I am not a spokesman for the Institute in this column, readers should be given sufficient information to judge whether where I stand is determined at least in part by where I sit (starting with my boss having written in defence of Fadden).

Why is this so hard to grasp? Yet New Democrat Don Davies told Fadden "You've created great consternation and anxiety, unwarranted suspicion and an unfounded stain on ... every provincial cabinet minister in the country." Bosh. No one thought Fadden meant the UK government was plying ministers of recent British extraction with crumpets and tea.

If he did something bad, it was to cast unwarranted suspicion on cabinet ministers who are first- or second-generation immigrants from countries of west, south and east Asia, especially that big one near Taiwan. Given the normal hypersensitivity of the politically correct to any whiff of bigotry, Davies' line of attack was weirdly off-target.

Afterwards Davies said, "I don't think he understands ... the damage that he's done to the political process in this country." What about the damage politicians do to it when the head of CSIS warns of foreign penetration of our political system and most of them go after the messenger rather than the problem?

To talk as though multiculturalism trumps national security brings politics into disrepute. Yet as Fadden rightly told the committee, "If I had simply said, 'There is foreign interference in Canada,' you, ladies and gentlemen, would be all at your holidays right now."

On Tuesday, Liberal MP Marlene Jennings demanded a quick review of the allegations because "Four more weeks is simply too long to allow this issue to linger." Until Fadden spoke out, she'd have let it linger for four decades.

We have a problem.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson