Defence ministers of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico concluded a two-day meeting in Ottawa today designed to enhance co-operation regarding security threats from violent drug cartels and response to natural disasters.

"Threats to North America and the hemisphere are increasingly complex and require non-traditional responses … we have agreed to enhance our co-operation to support efforts to counter transnational criminal organizations and to respond to natural disasters in the hemisphere," the defence representatives said in a joint statement.

Canada’s Defence Minister Peter MacKay said, "This inaugural trilateral defence meeting formalized and strengthened the necessary co-operation between our three countries."

MacKay’s counterparts at the meeting included U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan, Mexican secretary of national defence, and Admiral Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza, Mexican secretary of the navy.

Galvan told his counterparts the drug war had cost Mexico 150,000 of its citizens and warned the cartels have ties to Canada and the United States.

Panetta said after the meeting that drug trafficking and the violent cartels it funds are among the most serious threats confronting North, Central and South America. "I think all of us realize this threat to North America, this threat to our security, this threat to our people."

MacKay said, "If it’s a problem for Mexico, it’s a problem for Canada." 

Shared military intelligence, including interdicting drugs at sea, was one of the strategies discussed to combat the illicit trade, MacKay said.

"One of the biggest and most challenging threats is movement on the water," said MacKay. "The sheer volume of containers, for example, that come into North America from sources all around the world and the screening of the containers that often contain illicit materials including drugs."

MacKay said that the use of more high-tech equipment to examine containers and other surveillance were examples of the type of co-operation that might occur under new agreements.

The representatives said their meeting had established a framework to pursue co-operation that would include:

  • Developing a joint defence threat assessment for North America. 
  • Improving support to civilian public security agencies in countering illicit activities such as narcotics trafficking.  
  • Increasing the speed and efficiency with which armed forces support civilian-led responses to disasters. 
  • Continuing to work together to strengthen hemispheric defence forums.

The results of the trilateral meeting will be passed along to leaders ahead of the North American Leaders' Summit, which will take place April 2, 2012.

With files from The Canadian Press