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Tories, media question Liberals' toughness on terror 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 6:10 p.m. July 13, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Less than a week after the deadly terror attacks in London, the Conservatives have begun a strategy of accusing the Liberal government of not being tough enough on terrorism. 

And the Liberals appear to be on a counter offensive of their own. 

Over the past two days, the Tories have released four press releases criticizing the government's handling of security issues or questioning their concern about terrorists. 

Conservative foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day blasted the Liberals in a statement released Wednesday after the Vancouver Sun reported a top B.C. Liberal spoke on the weekend at a function attended by former members of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a group listed under Canada's anti-terror legislation. 

"No wonder Paul Martin is not taken seriously on an international stage such as the G8 Summit," Day said. "He is simply not treated as a grown-up at these events because of his government's immature actions."

The emphasis on terror comes as a new debate begins in Canada in the wake of Britain being hit: "Is Canada next?"

With the simultaneous suicide bombings on London's transit system last week, Canada remains the only country on a list released by Al-Qaeda in 2002 that has not been attacked.

The debate is slowly shifting towards waiting for the other shoe to drop. 
For instance, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan has started talking more bluntly about the probability of a terrorist attack on Canadian soil in recent days. 

"I do not believe that Canadians are as psychologically prepared for a terrorist attack as I think probably we all should be," McLellan said earlier this week at a conference on security in Toronto. 

"I think we have perhaps for too long thought that these were things that happen somewhere else . . . the self-image we may have of ourselves, it may be accurate, but completely irrelevant in the world in which we live."

McLellan also said this week that Canadian law enforcement and intelligence has "made it plain that there exists in this country those who might very well choose, either themselves or with others, to do harm." 

This comes from the same cabinet minister who last year appeared to brush aside a warning during last June's election campaign from FBI director Robert Mueller, who said a potential terror suspect the FBI was conducting a manhunt for was a licensed pilot who is believed to have discussed "hijacking a plane in Canada and flying it into a building in the United States." 

McLellan at the time contradicted the opinions of intelligence and terrorism experts about the existence of Al-Qaeda in Canada. 

"We have no reason to believe that there is a Canadian cell, and again, I want to reassure Canadians around their safety and security and the fact that there is no specific threat in relation to Canadians," she said.

Also last year, McLellan downplayed the comments of the outgoing director of CSIS, Ward Elcock, who told a Commons subcommittee on national security that an Al-Qaeda attack on Canada was inevitable. 

"It is no longer a question of if, but rather of when or where, we will be specifically targeted," he said at the time.

Later that same day, McLellan said there was no known specific terrorist threat aimed at Canadians.

"I'm not sure that I would say it (an attack) is inevitable," she said, adding that post-Sept. 11 security measures could break up a potential attack before it is carried out.

At the same time McLellan has toughed up her language, a Canadian Press reporter has had the good fortune of having his outstanding Access to Information requests for briefing documents to the prime minister on terror-related activities arrive on his desk. 

On Tuesday, CP published a story on documents showing the PM was briefed last year on potential threats to the Toronto subway system. And on Wednesday, CP reported that senior government officials met with Elections Canada before last spring's election to discuss contingency plans in the event of a terrorist attack during the election campaign. 

CP requested the documents under the Access to Information Act last September and needed the assistance of the information commissioner to investigate a delay in processing the request. 

Whether intentional or not, the documents offer a glimpse of a prime minister being active and up to date on the issue and the government making advance plans just in case of an attack. 

But if the Liberals are buffing up their anti-terror image it could be because the criticism is starting to come from places besides the opposition benches. 

The Liberal-friendly editorial board of the Toronto Star this week asked, "Does Ottawa see the threat?"

The editorial noted that after more than eight months the government's own Integrated Threat Assessment Centre still lacks a representative from the Privy Council Office. 

"For such a critical player to be missing from the terrorism prevention file at this point is simply unacceptable," the Star said. 

"As they prepare themselves psychologically, Canadians can only hope that would-be terrorists are in no more hurry than the government."

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