Pandemics, climate change among new threats that demand security revamp: PM's adviser

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The prime minister's intelligence adviser is calling for an expanded definition of national security in an era of global pandemics, climate change and cyberthreats.

In a speech sponsored by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Vincent Rigby said Tuesday the world is experiencing seismic political and economic shifts and facing a complex combination of new security challenges.

"So this environment requires a new, I would argue broader, definition of national security, and requires Canada to be prepared and to step up its game."

Rigby, who became national security and intelligence adviser in January 2020, said these challenges are relevant to all Canadians in their daily lives, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear.

In the face of such massive change, Canada's national security community needs to evolve and adapt, he said.

That means ensuring officials have the needed tools and authorities, increasing transparency with Canadians, advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives, and working across and beyond government.

Rigby said security officials must start by engaging Canadians in an open and continuous dialogue.

He prefaced his remarks by calling this week's assault on a London, Ont., family a "truly horrific attack based on their Islamic faith."

"There is no place for terrorism, intolerance, hate and Islamophobia in this country."

Rigby went on to catalogue an array of security threats that go well beyond, or sometimes intermingle with, more traditional dangers.

"We live in a increasingly complex and dangerous world and I'd say in 2021, this is truer than ever.

"Canada, like many of our allies, is confronted by a myriad of emerging and cross-cutting trends and threats."

Rigby underscored federal concerns that China and Russia are attempting to interfere in Canada's affairs, threatening the integrity of its political system, democratic institutions, social cohesion and long-term prosperity.

"Indeed, China and Russia and other hostile state actors will continue to pose a significant security and economic threat to Canada through their foreign interference, disinformation, espionage and hostile cyber-efforts."

Liberal democracy is increasingly being supplanted by authoritarian governments that seek to weaken multilateralism, principles of individual freedoms, the rule of law, open trade and human rights, Rigby said.

An emerging element in the mix is transformative new technology that presents both opportunities and vulnerabilities, he said.

Canada has seen companies that hide their state ties invest in sensitive sectors, as well as the theft of intellectual property to advance the interests of foreign states, Rigby said.

"And it seems not a day goes by without a devastating story about the impact of cyberattacks, or ransomware.

"Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing will deepen threats to our national security posed by hostile states, by criminals and by others."

Rigby said global health security will continue to be a key concern beyond the current pandemic.

Changes in human activity, including urbanization, mass displacement and migration, coupled with the effects of climate change, will create conditions for the emergence and spread of new diseases, he warned.

"We've already seen the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the daily toll of cases and lives lost. And we're starting to see the secondary impacts. The pandemic will continue to affect global economic growth, and lead to increased poverty, and potentially social unrest."

Compounding the consequences of the pandemic are the effects of climate change on human security, he said.

The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change could cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, illness and heat stress, Rigby noted.

"A warmer climate will intensify weather extremes, meaning more severe heat waves and increased drought, wildfire and urban flood risk. This will stress our critical infrastructure and our emergency responders," he said.

"As Canadian areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans experience longer and more widespread ice-free conditions, threats to our sovereignty and security will increase."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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