Canadians not psychologically braced for terrorism, McLellan says

Canadians using mass transit systems need to be psychologically ready for a terrorist attack, the federal public safety minister says.

Canadians who use mass transit systems need to prepare themselves mentally for the possibility of terrorist attacks, the federal public safety minister says.

"I do not believe that Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as I think probably we all should be," Anne McLellan told the World Conference on Disaster Management in Toronto on Monday.

"I think we have for perhaps too long thought that these were things that happened somewhere else.

"One never wants to unnecessarily scare or panic any individual. However, I think we need to start talking about the fact that we all need to be prepared for all possibilities."

About 1,500 security experts from 50 countries are meeting to brainstorm on how to get ready for large-scale disasters – a quest given added urgency by the July 7 attacks on London's transit system.

Officials said there are several things individuals can do to get ready.

"Psychologically, they have to be prepared that things could happen," said James Young of Emergency Preparedness Canada. "They have to think about evacuation for their own family, keeping their own family safe, where would meeting spots be."

Conference speaker Ty Fairman, who has worked with the FBI investigating bombings and chemical attacks around the world, said Canadians need to wake up to the possibility that they could be targets.

"Osama bin Laden stated that there are five Christian nations that will be attacked," said Fairman, of the National Security & Intelligence Society Inc.

"The United States has been attacked. Spain has been attacked. The United Kingdom has been attacked. Then there's Australia and Canada."

He called many Canadians naïve. "They have an unreasonable expectation of law enforcement and the federal government to protect them against terrorist attacks. There's no way they can. There's not enough law enforcement nor intelligence to do so."

Peter Power, a disaster-response consultant who used to work for Scotland Yard, said Canada hasn't taken the physical precautions that are standard in some other countries.

For example, he said closed-circuit television cameras are common all over London.

Although they didn't stop the recent transit bombings, they could prevent others and are a key investigative tool, he said.

In Canada, most politicians strongly oppose cameras in public places because of privacy concerns. Power said that's a sign that Canadians are not taking their safety seriously.

"You've got to sacrifice. Freedom is not free. ...You've got to pay something to get the dividend back."

The conference has been put on annually for 15 years by the Canadian Centre for Disaster Preparedness, a non-profit organization.