OP/Analysis: A Broad Look at the Issues Confronting Canada
Former RCMP anti-money laundering expert Garry Clement diagnoses Canada's systemic corruption challenges
Since publishing my book, Undercover, In the Shady World of Organized Crime and the RCMP, I have continued to speak to investigative journalists and members of the public who are concerned about the direction Canada is taking with many programs.
The key is for Canadians and our political leaders to be educated on the true impact of each threat area, with a view of adopting a more comprehensive approach in the future. I’ll break down the key challenges facing Canada here, in light of growing recognition among academics and the law enforcement community, that our nation faces a pivotal time of reform.
Organized crime with state-connections across borders
First of all, transnational organized crime presents a grave threat to democracy and the rule of law through several channels:
Undermining Institutions: These criminal entities infiltrate and corrupt key institutions such as law enforcement agencies, judiciaries, and political structures. This infiltration diminishes their ability to uphold impartiality, enforce laws, and maintain public trust.
Distorting Political Processes: Organized crime groups manipulate political processes via corruption, intimidation, and violence, infiltrating political parties, funding campaigns, and coercing politicians. Such interference distorts representation and decision-making, compromising democratic principles.
Undermining Civil Society: Intimidation of civil society organizations, media outlets, and advocacy groups restricts transparency, accountability, and human rights protection. Silencing dissent weakens civil society's role in holding governments accountable, further eroding democratic values.
Generating Social Instability: Criminal activities like drug and human trafficking exacerbate violence, corruption, and economic disparity, undermining public safety and economic development, thereby weakening democratic governance.
Undermining Legal Frameworks: Operating across borders, transnational organized crime exploits legal gaps and hampers law enforcement efforts. Lack of international cooperation allows these networks to evade justice, undermining legal frameworks globally.
Addressing transnational organized crime requires concerted efforts at the national, regional, and international levels to strengthen legal frameworks, enhance law enforcement capabilities, promote transparency and accountability, and foster cooperation among governments, law enforcement agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders.
And Canada’s failure to act against transnational organized crime can have far-reaching consequences for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, undermining the foundations of stable and inclusive societies.
Similarly, state-sponsored actors leverage cyber-attacks, espionage, disinformation campaigns, and geopolitical maneuvers to influence Canada:
Cybersecurity Threats: State-sponsored actors target government institutions, critical infrastructure, businesses, and individuals to steal information or disrupt services.
Espionage and Intelligence Gathering: Foreign intelligence agencies may target Canadian government agencies, military installations, research institutions, and corporations to obtain classified information, trade secrets, and strategic intelligence. This espionage can undermine national security and economic interests.
Influence Operations and Disinformation Campaigns: State-sponsored actors conduct influence operations to shape public opinion, sow discord, and undermine trust in democratic institutions. They may spread false information, manipulate social media platforms, and amplify divisive narratives to destabilize Canada’s social fabric and political landscape.
Geopolitical Agendas: Canada's strategic significance attracts efforts to exert influence, leading to diplomatic pressure and military posturing by foreign powers.
How it all relates to Foreign Interference
Most recently there has been a collective media focus on how some of our Canadian ethnic communities are being targeted by the hostile regimes of their former countries.
I continue to speak to citizens within these communities, who are expressing ongoing concerns about Canada’s lack of understanding as to the impact this is having and how law enforcement does not comprehend the full threat our diasporas face.
Addressing interference from countries like Iran, China, and India requires understanding their tactics and potential impacts:
Iran: The Iranian government targets diaspora communities in Canada, involving cultural events, religious institutions, and media outlets, alongside espionage concerns.
China: Canada has experienced notable instances of Chinese interference, especially concerning the Chinese government’s attempts to influence Chinese Canadians and Chinese student groups. These efforts may involve pressuring individuals or groups to conform to Beijing’s political agenda, surveilling dissidents, and spreading propaganda through Chinese-language media outlets.
India: The Indian diaspora in Canada is significant and has grown over the years. While there may not be direct interference from the Indian government, political tensions, and issues within India, such as those related to Kashmir or the treatment of minority groups, can reverberate within Canadian diaspora communities and influence public discourse and political engagement.
Broader Social Cohesion Impacts
What we need to collectively understand is that there are major impacts on Canada and its diaspora communities flowing from interference that include:
Political Polarization: Foreign interference efforts can exacerbate divisions within Canadian communities, leading to increased polarization and tensions among diaspora groups.
Freedom of Expression: Interference attempts may undermine freedom of expression within diaspora communities, as individuals may fear reprisals for expressing dissenting views or criticizing foreign governments.
National Security Concerns: Espionage and surveillance activities conducted by foreign actors can pose significant national security risks to Canada and its institutions.
Cultural Influence: Efforts to influence media, cultural events, and religious institutions can shape the cultural landscape and perceptions within diaspora communities.
Corruption, Fraud and Public Confidence
The recent controversy around the Arrive Canada App highlights another major issue which Canadians should be concerned about. The impact of government ignoring fraud and/or corruption in government contracts can be far-reaching and detrimental in several ways:
Financial Loss: Ignoring fraud and corruption in government contracts leads to significant financial losses for taxpayers. Funds that are intended for public projects or services end up being misappropriated or wasted through inflated contracts, kickbacks, or other corrupt practices.
Quality of Services and Infrastructure: Contracts awarded based on fraudulent or corrupt practices may not result in the delivery of quality services or infrastructure. Contractors who secure projects through bribery or kickbacks may cut corners, use substandard materials, or fail to meet project specifications, compromising the quality and safety of public goods and services.
Inefficiency and Ineffectiveness: Corruption distorts market dynamics and undermines competition in the procurement process. When contracts are awarded based on connections rather than merit, the most qualified vendors or service providers may be overlooked, leading to inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the delivery of public projects or services.
Social Inequity: Corruption often exacerbates social inequities by diverting resources away from essential services and infrastructure that benefit the most vulnerable populations. When public funds are siphoned off through corrupt practices, disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected, further widening existing disparities in access to education, healthcare, and basic infrastructure.
Legal and Reputation Risks: Ignoring fraud and corruption in government contracts exposes governments to legal and reputational risks. Failure to address corrupt practices can lead to legal sanctions, international condemnation, and damage to the government’s reputation both domestically and internationally.
The Fentanyl Death Crisis and Harm Reduction
It is hard to fathom that after years of dealing with drug addiction we continue to have approaches which do not deal with the root of the problem and recognize that often addicts face complex and compounding impacts, meaning they cannot make informed decisions on their own.
For my book, I interviewed a young female addict who became pregnant. When I asked why she would bring an addicted child into the world, her response was that I didn't understand: She said in her condition this was the only way left to her so that she could feel like a female human-being.
I fully concur that harm reduction strategies are an essential component of addressing drug addictions, but they should not be the only approach. We need complimentary strategies to address drug addiction more comprehensively:
Prevention Programs: Investing in prevention programs that educate individuals, especially young people, about the risks and consequences of drug use can help prevent addiction before it starts. These programs can include school-based education, community outreach, and public awareness campaigns.
Early Intervention and Treatment: Providing accessible and effective treatment options for individuals who are struggling with drug addiction is crucial. Early intervention can prevent addiction from escalating and help individuals recover before serious harm occurs. This includes access to detoxification services, counselling, therapy, medication- assisted treatment, and rehabilitation programs.
By integrating harm reduction strategies with comprehensive approaches, communities can cultivate more efficacious responses to drug addiction, addressing the intricate factors underlying substance abuse and assisting individuals on their path toward recovery and well-being.
Considering all points raised in this essay, I believe it is imperative that Canada formulate and execute a domestically crafted strategy, to enhance our diminished global stature and demonstrate a genuine commitment to addressing longstanding issues that have been overlooked for an extended period.
Addressing many of these challenges requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach that involves strengthening legal frameworks, enhancing interagency cooperation, investing in technology and human resources, improving international collaboration, and fostering greater political commitment to combating transnational organized crime effectively.
Garry Clement consults with corporations on anti-money laundering, contributed to the Canadian academic text Dirty Money, and wrote Undercover, In the Shady World of Organized Crime and the RCMP
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