Northern Exposure

Canada sets an example for melding technology and public safety.

by / August 8, 2002
Canada -- more than 31 million people spread out over 3.9 million miles of natural beauty -- is America's longtime ally. That historical band was tightened on Sept. 11 when more than 200 U.S.-bound planes carrying tens of thousands of passengers filled Canada's air and found a safe haven.

Just days later, there were new demands for tighter border security and subsequent revelations about alleged terrorists crossing that border into the United States. Officials responsible for public safety on both sides took action.

Canada, for its part, has implemented an integrated justice information initiative that involves a number of public safety agencies. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the Correctional Service of Canada, and the National Parole Board, all under the umbrella of the Solicitor General Canada, work with the Department of Justice Canada to carry out the plans for improving public safety.

A National Effort
The initiative originated in December 2001 when Canada earmarked US$4.9 billion to fight terrorism and strengthen the nation's security. Part of this effort is the development of the Canadian Public Safety Information Network (CPSIN), linking multiple sources of information to authorized users throughout government. Another component is the National Criminal Justice Index -- something Greg Wright, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Secretariat, calls the "front door" for information sharing. He foresees the day when immigration officials can check documents at the border and simultaneously search the databases of the RCMP, provincial police, corrections, and Canada Customs and Revenue Agency.

The importance of the integrated system increased after 9-11, "by quantum leaps," Wright said. "Before Sept. 11, I would have to say that integrated justice was a goal that should be done. Sept. 11 said we had experienced a serious failure in information management."

Paul Kennedy, senior assistant deputy solicitor general, is responsible for national security and oversees numerous aspects of public safety. His 25 years with Canada's Department of Justice give him perspective on the current sense of urgency. He says it will take more than good technology to create real security between the neighboring countries. "There is a recognition that the U.S./Canada issue is unique," Kennedy said. "It is of such a nature that you can't build a fortress wall between us." Trade alone demands that the countries maintain an expedited flow of goods and people, he added. The United States is Canada's No. 1 import/export market.

In the global environment of heightened security consciousness, cooperation must exist in concert with international competition. "In Canada, like the U.S., national security is the sum of efforts of many partners," Kennedy said in a recent speech. "One government, one agency, cannot handle the job alone." Talking to officials from safety agencies throughout Canada, he emphasized the importance of the nation's integrated justice initiatives. He said the mission is so big it transcends all levels of government. "There is an important international dynamic and Canada reflects this reality," Kennedy said. "This intensifies the relationship between the U.S. and Canada in respect to border security."

The Smart Border Declaration, a joint agreement signed by U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Canada Deputy Prime Minister John Manley is a 30-point plan to address the issue of free-flowing trade in the context of enhanced security. The challenge is daunting. More than 110 million travelers are processed every year and about 60 million parcels and shipments cross the border. The value of this commerce is US$229 billion in imports and US$283 billion in exports. It all comes through 415 border crossings that are managed by 3,600 Canadian customs officers.

New technologies include mobile X-ray machines at customs check points, electronic document readers for primary inspection lines at airports and investment in a case-management system for customs intelligence information. In addition, Integrated Border Enforcement Teams are being formed. These multi-agency law enforcement teams include agents from 12 different police services and agencies on both sides of the border. Other initiatives include development of a frequent-traveler system and identification of technological solutions, such as electronic container seals, that help to speed trade across the border.

According to Bev Busson, a deputy commissioner of the RCMP, there is a lot of open territory to cover. An example, she explained, is a 60-mile swath of border that is essentially a rugged trench. "There is a street - with a ditch. Cross the ditch and you are in the U.S.," she said. "There is literally no discernable border other than a stone marker every mile or so." Naturally, this vulnerable area caused problems for law enforcement on both sides. To better protect these areas and the rest of the border, the RCMP and customs personnel from the United States and Canada have joined forces. The cooperative effort, which began prior to 9-11, included sharing radio equipment and information. Done without official approval, the partnership intercepted people and drug smuggling efforts.

"After Sept. 11, the tool took on new dimension," Busson said. "Sometimes, if you stop trying to formalize things, you can get things done." The model has now been officially adopted throughout Canada. "It's a real model of how we can get things done," Busson said. "If you tried to deal with every little jurisdictional issue, you'd be bogged down in bureaucracy."

According to Busson, technologies to tackle old problems have been welcomed by officers. A project in Richmond, British Columbia, linking that city to the Vancouver City Police created so much enthusiasm that officers spent their personal time learning to use the new technology. "We couldn't train them fast enough," Busson said.

Nonetheless, Busson, a 28-year veteran with the RCMP, reminds law enforcement officials that the daily job of ensuring safety hasn't changed. "In this day and age, with our global challenges, what we need to realize is that community policing is still important," she said. "The strength of any police force is the strength you get from your community. Technology is no more than a tool to enhance those relationships."

Familiar Technologies
Some of the technology tools the RCMP is using in the nation's effort to integrate its justice and law enforcement systems are familiar ones. "We are moving to XML, which will allow us to move to standards and to transmit information," said J.P. St. Pierre, deputy project manager of the Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC). "Other tools will be used for data mining. But before we can get there and make decisions we want to make use of tools that have been around."

Along with using its in-house resources, the RCMP is working with several IT companies including EDS, Compaq, Microsoft, IBM, CGI and Entrust. Provincial and municipal forces will be able to leverage the RCMP's resources, according to Michael O'Neil, chief superintendent of the CPIC. "As long as they have an accredited police force, they have access," he said. "We are going to a COTS -- commercial off the shelf products -- and of course each one has to be tweaked a little bit to meet the special needs."

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, charged with enforcement of immigration laws, is another partner in the integrated justice project. Elizabeth Tromp, director general of the enforcement branch, said new technology will contribute to safety on both sides of the border. "The immigration border is not just a geopolitical line," she said, adding that all along its perimeter are "transactional points" that provide opportunities for security checks. "Visa screening, airline check-in, embarkation, transit, the last embarkation point -- these are all points at which to check," she suggested. "We are pursuing this approach with the United States. We recognize the best way to manage [terrorism] is as far away from the border as possible. Then, we take away some of the pressure from our shared border."

Tromp outlined three main challenges: ensuring information is in proper hands, identification and verification. "Technology is an enabler to all three of these," she said. "We need effective case tracing that links information and secure documentation that is not susceptible to fraud."

According to Tromp, the United States and Canada are moving toward these goals together. "Where are we now? We have a global case-management system in development and we are replacing our legacy systems," she said. "We have a comprehensive information sharing agreement with the U.S. under the Smart Border Accord."

The nation's Department of Justice also is an integral part of the five-year plan. The development of CPSIN will create national standards for case management, enabling all participants, from federal investigators to attorneys and courts, to have easy access to records and information. Other projects include the Barrister's Briefcase, a package of applications and software for all aspects of case management, and C.R.I.M.E., a national repository of criminal law information that will be available to justice officials in federal and provincial governments. Unlike the United States, Canada has a single, federal criminal code that applies throughout the provinces.

Building the foundation for this shared and integrated justice system is the Data Standards Secretariat, whose job includes working with numerous agencies and departments. Along with the challenge of disparate systems in agencies having their own proprietary information, the secretariat team also is building a common language that will become the CPSIN dictionary. Historically, each entity was free to use whatever data terms it chose, adding difficulty to interagency information sharing. Today, the intent is to make that information as widely available as possible. And, in the post 9-11 environment, that means international data sharing.

Carrie Hunter, director of the Data Standards Secretariat, said agencies have become partners in the project because its value is clear. "We will have a common defense library and a common offense library," she said. "We have taken the lead so that partners will be able to download current criminal code and understand it because there has been a harmonizing of the wording." The common language and standards also will be shared with justice officials in the provinces. The launch of the CPSIN dictionary is scheduled for mid-2003.

The benefits of integrated justice systems will flow beyond the boundaries of the federal government. Consideration of international implications and the historic partnership with the United States permeates the ministry's plan. Equally important, however, is outreach to the provinces and territories. Louis Bergeron, director of partnerships for the Integrated Justice Information Secretariat, was appointed in March to encourage the involvement of other government sectors. "We are at a stage where we can really engage the provinces," he said. "There is a real interest on the part of the provinces to participate. We will help them to link to all the services and there are great benefits for them to be able to link to the federal networks."

There is no debate about the need for interoperability and enhanced communication in the post-9-11 environment. From one local police department to another and among nations, technology is a tool to fight terrorism and ensure public safety.

"In Canada and in other countries, law enforcement systems were designed long ago," Kennedy observed, adding that they were stand-alone systems. "In the past, information sharing just wasn't done. There wasn't a legacy of information sharing on which to build."

Today, the country is well on its way to creating a model of integrated justice. "Technology is at the heart of what we hope to accomplish. We want the capacity to make sure information can be shared in new ways, yet be secure," said Kennedy, adding that collaboration across the border will be necessary. "I think the scope and depth of the terrorist acts took people by surprise. It raised the priority for national security to a very high level."
Darby Patterson Editor in Chief