Energy site terror protection plan slammed

Canada still has not identified its critical energy infrastructure sites in need of protection from terrorism almost 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a report recently released by the Department of National Defence.

Public Safety Canada says report contains 'out-of-date information'

Canada still has not identified its critical energy infrastructure sites in need of protection from terrorism almost 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a scathing report recently released by the Department of National Defence.

The report, commissioned by the DND's research branch, concludes that Canada has yet to develop more than a patchwork strategy to protect installations such as oil refineries, power plants and offshore drilling platforms from attacks from al-Qaeda, homegrown extremists or cyber-hackers.

Various governments have claimed that emergency management and critical infrastructure protection are major priorities, but "the reality appears rather different from the rhetoric," wrote Angela Gendron, the report's author and a senior fellow at the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies at Carleton University.

In 2007, Al-Qaeda included Canada in a list of countries that it believes should be attacked for providing oil to the United States.

Gendron's report found that Canada's key installations are typically well-protected, although offshore production platforms may still be vulnerable to assault by sea or air.

"Energy infrastructure is threatened by ongoing criminal acts of theft, vandalism, public order extremism and severe weather conditions but terrorism and cyber attacks pose significant risks," she wrote.

"The main terrorist threat emanates from international Islamist extremism as epitomized by al-Qaeda, affiliated groups or homegrown terrorists inspired by jihadism."

Gendron also noted much of Canada's critical infrastructure is built upon, monitored or controlled by cyber-information systems, leaving it vulnerable to electronic attacks and effects from other disruptions.

Jurisdictional barriers

In her report, Gendron also wrote that the federal government's 2008 draft strategy and action plan for Canada's critical infrastructure still awaits formal approval.

But in an email to CBC News on Wednesday, Public Safety Canada said Gendron's statement "is factually incorrect" and said her report contains "out-of-date information."  

Public Safety official Andrew Swift said the department has made "significant progress" in implementing the national critical-infrastructure strategy announced by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in May, including publication of a risk management guide for sectors.

Numerous jurisdictional barriers exist to implementing such a plan, as provinces and territories have power over matters related to natural resources under the Constitution.

Gendron also hit out at the effectiveness of the government's protection plan, which she said will depend upon the voluntary participation of various public and private sector stakeholders, as well as building a culture of collaboration and information-sharing among them. 

"Arguably, this is a passive and reactive plan which gives insufficient attention to deterring and preventing malicious attacks on infrastructure," Gendron wrote.

More than 80 per cent of energy sector assets and installations are privately owned or operated, she noted.

The report was released last month and first reported on by PostMedia News on Wednesday.