I call the meeting to order.
Colleagues, I know we're running late and everybody's trying to get organized, but I think we should have respect for our witnesses who have been politely waiting for us.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are continuing with our study of the provision of assistance to Canadians in difficulty abroad, better known as consular affairs.
Before us today, from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, is Heather Jeffrey. With her is David Drake, director general, counter-terrorism, crime and intelligence bureau.
As well, from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have James Malizia, assistant commissioner, national security and protective policing, federal policing.
Welcome to all of you, and again we offer our apologies. We can't do much about the way things are going in the House, but we can control this meeting.
With that, I'll turn the floor over to Ms. Jeffrey to begin her remarks, and then, colleagues, we'll get right into questions after that.
Go ahead, Ms. Jeffrey, please.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for welcoming us back to this committee during your hearings on consular services. I'll start with a few remarks on the work of the consular team, to update you since we last met in October. Then I'll pass it on to my colleague David Drake, the director general of the counter-terrorism, crime and intelligence bureau of Global Affairs, followed by James Malizia, assistant commissioner for national security and protective policing at the RCMP.
Since our last appearance, we've seen a continued increase in the number of new consular cases abroad. While the nature and breakdown of cases has remained stable, the total number of new consular cases opened in 2017 was 4% higher than that of 2016, an increase of over 11,000 cases.
The program remains committed to the process of consular modernization to meet the increasing demand. For example, we have conducted public opinion research with Canadian travellers to better understand their preparations for travel, what information they need and their expectations when it comes to consular services. While we are waiting on the full results, it is clear that Canadians continue to expect high standards of service that should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Since we last met, we have continued to invest in training, including conducting introductory training courses for our new, dedicated consular officers abroad. We've delivered courses on mental illness and consular services, in response to trends we've seen, to approximately 80 consular officers at locations around the world, and we've ensured that our mid-career consular officers across Africa have participated in advanced training, including on arrest and detention issues. These initiatives help to maintain and reinforce the professionalism of our dedicated consular service, which is a separate stream of the foreign service category.
In rising to meet these expectations, we're going to rely in part on technology. Our Going Digital initiative will provide Canadians with the information that they need in real time through the mobile channels they are most comfortable using and will connect them ever more quickly to consular services when they need help.
We are improving assistance to Canadians with new services such as the digital Ask Travel initiative, which we discussed in October, and the Travel Smart app.
A new and improved case contact and emergency management system is also being rolled out by 2020. This more robust system will modernize our consular case record management system. It will facilitate the identification of consular trends and challenges and it will help us to better track service delivery to ensure continued consistency and high standards.
This investment in technology is just one part of the considerable resources that Global Affairs Canada is devoting to improving its ability to provide quality consular and emergency management services.
I should note in this regard that the cost of providing consular services continues to significantly exceed the revenues that are collected from the consular service fee. For example, in fiscal year 2016-17, the cost of consular services was $131 million, of which $105 million was collected through the consular services fee.
We will soon be conducting a regular review of our resourcing and costing methodology in order to update it and to continue to ensure effective, consistent levels of service and the appropriate allocation of our resources overseas.
Other aspects of our strategy are focused on international cooperation. Consular officials are meeting regularly with counterparts on a bilateral basis to resolve case-specific and systemic challenges and learn from best practices.
Additionally, our international work continues apace. Our hosting of the Secretariat of the Global Consular Forum means that we maintain excellent contacts with the consular services of over 40 countries, not only traditional like-minded allies but also new emerging partners. These initiatives are helping to facilitate our co-operation on consular matters and have resulted in new partnerships with direct benefit to Canadians, including, for example, targeted discussions this year on issues such as dual nationality, services to children, and other emerging challenges.
On the communications front, we're continuing to look at new ways to reach more Canadians. Every year the consular outreach team travels across Canada to meet travelling Canadians and travel industry representatives at industry events, fairs, and conferences, and they are also surveying arrivals at major airports. The team promotes timely travel advice, the importance of travel insurance, the Registration of Canadians Abroad service and its benefits, and key publications with relevant travel information on specific issues.
We are also reaching out to Canadians through public information campaigns, such as our recent spring break campaign, which included a technical briefing for the media, specific web pages, and a strong push on social media in an effort to highlight some of the key ways Canadians can ensure their own safety and security while travelling. We will shortly be launching a similar campaign that takes place annually in advance of hurricane season.
Finally, we'd like to thank the committee for its attention to consular services. We very much look forward to the results of this study, which will further contribute to the development of our consular modernization strategy.
I will be happy to respond to further questions after my colleagues have a chance to deliver their own opening remarks.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before the committee.
My name is David Drake, and I am the Director General of Global Affairs Canada's Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Intelligence Bureau. I have had direct responsibility for and operational oversight of the Global Affairs Canada's response to terrorist hostage takings involving Canadian citizens since 2014.
My understanding is that the committee is seeking further information on interdepartmental coordination on hostage takings. As such, in my remarks today, I will speak to the Government of Canada's hostage response structure and Global Affairs Canada's role in supporting hostage families. I will then turn to my esteemed colleague Assistant Commissioner James Malizia from the RCMP, an agency with which Global Affairs Canada works exceptionally closely on these matters.
I will make every effort to be as open as possible and answer your questions fully. However, cabinet confidence and classification of information may restrict what I am able to share. More critically, I cannot reveal any information that could jeopardize current and future efforts and put the lives of future hostages and others at risk.
I can share with considerable relief that as of a short while ago, for the first time since 2007, we are not currently managing any active terrorist hostage case. This, of course, could change at any moment.
Hostage-taking is a tactic of choice of terrorist groups and individuals seeking to raise funds or to obtain concessions from governments. Incidents are common in states where authorities do not have effective control or capabilities and in conflict zones.
Most Canadians kidnapped abroad are victims of organized or individual crimes, or in some instances may be unlawfully detained by security authorities or militias in circumstances that resemble a hostage situation.
Generally these cases are managed by my colleagues in the consular branch in Global Affairs Canada, which is managed by Ms. Jeffrey. Terrorist hostage cases, however, are managed by a highly specialized unit in the department under my responsibility. You can imagine, of course, that we work very closely together.
This division of labour reflects the fact that terrorist hostage takings require a different toolkit, as well as specialized expertise and skills because of their national security implications.
Of course, the distinction between criminal and terrorist is not always so clear cut. There are elements of terrorist hostage takings that require distinct support from consular, and there are some consular cases that require the specialization of the critical incidents team.
National security implications or not, the Government of Canada treats the safety and security of all Canadians as a matter of fundamental importance.
Since 2005, the Government of Canada has responded to over 20 cases that qualify as terrorist hostage cases, either because a terrorist entity claimed responsibility or a Canadian citizen was taken hostage in an area where the sale or trade to a terrorist group appeared imminent.
For a terrorist hostage case, Global Affairs Canada coordinates the interdepartmental task force, the IDTF. This is a whole-of-government response that draws on the combined efforts of diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, and military spheres. This includes support from trained negotiators and investigators, as well as intelligence-gathering and assessment. Canada's approach to the management of these cases tracks very closely with our closest allies and partners, who also employ whole-of-government hostage response structures.
The primary responsibility for the response to a hostage case lies with the country in which they are taken hostage. This is often forgotten. In this case, Canada works closely with foreign authorities and allies at every level to free Canadians and bring them home. As such, the Government of Canada's response includes significant diplomatic efforts.
Family engagement remains an essential part of our response to these situations. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Global Affairs Canada provide advice and support to hostage families over the course of the case, mindful of Canadian law and Canada's international legal obligations.
A hostage-taking is a horrible and unimaginable ordeal for families and loved ones. Our family support officials strive to work as closely as they can with families to assist them during these trying ordeals. The RCMP's role in this regard will be addressed by my colleague, Assistant Commissioner Malizia.
The Government of Canada constantly reviews its practices and procedures in complex cases such as these with an eye to identifying areas for improvement.
Recent efforts have included interviews with family members who received direct support from officials during a case, as well as consultations with close international partners and other experts on best practices in supporting hostage families.
Hostage-takings are enormously complex. All are unique and therefore require highly varied responses. Nevertheless, we study each case in great detail to better understand the particularities and the commonalities. We compare and discuss cases with our counterpart hostage response structures in like-minded countries, and we meet and seek feedback from hostage families. Through these activities we continuously add to our best practices. The Government of Canada is actively applying these lessons learned.
I'll stop there and now turn the floor to my colleague, Assistant Commissioner James Malizia.
Mr. Chair, thank you for the invitation to appear before this committee on this important study.
I will focus my comments today on the role of the RCMP internationally, including coordination with relevant government departments in providing assistance to Canadians who find themselves in difficulty abroad. I will also briefly touch on our unique role with regard to high-risk travellers.
Let me start by providing you with an overview of our international footprint.
The RCMP has a broad and varied international presence, and is called upon to deal with situations that run the gambit from Canadians who have been arrested or detained abroad to more complex cases like Canadians kidnapped by terrorist organizations.
Supporting domestic and international criminal investigations, participating in international peacekeeping operations and capacity building, and working within the information sharing networks of INTERPOL and EUROPOL and, where appropriate, aiding Canadians abroad are all components of the RCMP's international policing program.
Underpinning this broad mandate, the fundamental objective of the RCMP is to combat global criminal activity and to provide for the safety and security of Canadians, including those located globally.
Fostering a robust international presence provides the RCMP with an invaluable means to advance Canada's policing interests by maintaining strong collaborative relationships with law enforcement agencies and organizations around the world. The RCMP has access to a global support network, which it can mobilize in urgent situations. For instance, in locations where the RCMP has less-established relationships, we can leverage the resources of our Five Eyes partners and other like-minded countries to expand our reach and influence.
As of March 2018, 39 liaison officers, four regional manager liaison officers, and 12 criminal intelligence analysts were posted to 26 strategic international locations. Our international footprint, global partnerships, and influence, however, fuel the belief that the RCMP has the ability to investigate crimes or assist Canadians in other countries without restrictions. This is simply not the case. Some key limitations to operating internationally include the fact that the RCMP has no jurisdiction to conduct investigations in a foreign country without the consent of the host country, and that the Criminal Code only allows for certain offences that have been committed abroad to be prosecuted in Canada.
However, once foreign jurisdictions consent, investigations are undertaken by the RCMP and conducted in co-operation with local authorities, and the gathering of evidence would be consistent with the Canadian law and charter standards.
I want to now focus on a couple of areas in which the RCMP has significant involvement. I will touch on the work that the RCMP undertakes in relation to internationally abducted and missing children and then turn your attention to the kidnapping of Canadians abroad by terrorist groups. In all of those situations, we work closely with our Government of Canada partners to ensure an effective whole-of-government approach.
The RCMP's National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains becomes involved when an abduction has or may have crossed national borders, and assists and coordinates in missing children cases. It also investigates child abduction cases, where it assists and supports Canadian law enforcement agencies.
Federal-level coordination is undertaken in the case of internationally abducted children. Once a criminal investigation is initiated, we work closely with foreign law enforcement agencies, as well as with our Canadian partners to identify, intercept and recover missing and abducted children.
Parental abduction is a criminal offence in Canada whether or not there is a custody agreement in place. The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains assists investigations in an effort to return missing children to their parent or legal guardian. The centre plays a key role in international parental abductions through its links to all Canadian and U.S. police agencies and to most foreign law enforcement. Additionally, the centre has developed strong partnerships domestically and internationally with non-law enforcement entities, such as the Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the Missing Children Society of Canada.
Turning now to the issue of Canadians kidnapped for ransom, in conjunction with our Government of Canada partners the RCMP plays a role in responding to Canadians taken hostage abroad by terrorist organizations. Our primary goal in these investigations is to ensure the safe release of Canadian hostages. The RCMP must also gather and document evidence that would permit, whenever possible, the laying of charges and the successful prosecution of the perpetrators. The Criminal Code gives Canadian courts the jurisdiction to try certain criminal acts, such as terrorism and hostage-taking, that occur beyond our borders. These investigations are some of the most complex, lengthy, and resource-intensive that we conduct.
Hostage takings often occur in high-risk areas and in countries with questionable human rights records. As I have mentioned, the RCMP is dependent on the host country and must adhere to their legal requirements. We do this while trying to ensure the release of hostages and to gather necessary evidence that could be eventually utilized in a Canadian prosecution.
While these types of investigations may be challenging for the RCMP, they are nothing compared to the long-term difficulties faced by the families and victims of terrorist hostage-takings. In concert with Global Affairs Canada, the RCMP provides as much support as possible to the victims of these crimes through family liaison officers. Their role is to keep families as well informed as possible on the situation, and on the Government of Canada's efforts to secure the release of their loved ones.
Family liaison officers and investigators also assist the families of victims through various investigative strategies, including, but not limited to, the collection of evidence that may be needed to advance the investigation and support an eventual prosecution. The efforts of the family liaison officers continue long after the resolution of the hostage-taking, as the victims and their families may also be called to relive their experiences before the courts.
Despite these challenges, we have had successes. You have heard from Ms. Lindhout herself about her terrible ordeal at the hands of her kidnappers. Our undercover operation, which lasted five years, resulted in the arrest, trial, and conviction of Ali Omar Ader for her hostage-taking.
I mention this case because it demonstrates that the RCMP can bring perpetrators of extraterritorial crimes to face justice in Canada. Our efforts may take years, perhaps decades, but our commitment is long term.
I also mention this case because, while the outcome was ultimately successful, there were lessons to be learned. We have recognized this and are taking these lessons to heart. By drawing from this experience and from the lessons gleaned from each hostage-taking incident that the Government of Canada has been involved in responding to, the RCMP strives to improve our efforts in the future.
I would also like to highlight briefly another area where the RCMP becomes significantly involved with Canadians abroad. In this case, however, it pertains to individuals who have travelled abroad to engage in terrorist activities. The RCMP has a dual role in both investigating and repatriating these individuals, known as high-risk travellers.
Leaving Canada to participate in the activity of a terrorist group is an offence under Canadian law. It is also an offence for any Canadian citizen or permanent resident to commit an act outside of Canada that would be considered a terrorism offence if committed in Canada. Therefore, investigations of a high-risk traveller's activities continue throughout their period abroad. We do this in order to collect the necessary evidence to charge them, even in absentia, but also to understand just what threat they may pose to Canada and to Canadians should they decide to return.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Canadians the right to return to Canada, despite what criminal activity they may have been involved in while abroad. However, repatriating citizens involved in terrorist activity can be challenging. For instance, they may no longer possess a valid passport, as it may have been revoked or destroyed in theatre. They may also be listed under the Secure Air Travel Act or the no-fly lists of our allies, which prevents them from boarding an airplane.
Therefore, Government of Canada partners work together to facilitate the repatriation of Canadians. The Managed Returns Committee, led by our Global Affairs Canada partners, helps us coordinate this collaborative effort by facilitating an interagency assessment of the risk a returnee may pose. Each individual case must be assessed and decisions made based on the evidence presented. This process allows us to collectively manage their return home and to assess and mitigate any threat they may pose during, and after, their repatriation.
The RCMP has a significant role to play throughout the process. For instance, we may deploy officers abroad and we may seek as well to take security measures in that regard.
Further, it's important to also note that not all returnees may continue to pose a threat. Some may now be disillusioned with the cause. In such cases, we will focus our investigative resources on those who continue to pose a threat, while leveraging countering radicalization to violence, or CRV, initiatives and our police of jurisdiction partners and community partners to work with those who may no longer be interested in violence.
Thank you for providing me an opportunity to speak to you today on this important subject. I look forward to your questions.
Currently 220,000 Canadians are registered on our registration of Canadians abroad program. It's a voluntary program. Canadians provide details on where they're going to be, under strict privacy and security rules, so they're confident that their information isn't going to be misused by others and will only be used for consular purposes. We draw on that information to send out alerts when there are emergencies or security-related natural disaster circumstances in their destinations, to provide advice and establish contact and ensure their well-being. For example, this year about 650 emergency notifications went out.
However, we know that this number of 220,000 is a small percentage of the travelling public. In particular, many travellers go to destinations that they perceive as being low risk. Most Canadians are travelling to the United States. That is by far the foreign destination most people go to, and when people travel to the United States, they don't normally consider it useful to register on this kind of service. They expect their trip will be smooth.
Part of what we're doing is to reach out through social media channels. We have a Facebook and Twitter presence, which is growing quickly, and to incorporate them we also have new messaging apps to try to reach a greater percentage of the travelling public, in particular those groups and sectors that might not be as likely to research our websites or to actively seek out information. I think of young travellers in particular.
We also visit trade fairs and industry conferences, and we've undertaken a series of surveys of returning travelling Canadians at airports this year to get from them directly what kinds of sources they're more likely to use, the type of format and context they're looking for that would be of most use to them. We're working on a new, much more targeted communications strategy to try to reach out.
I'm not aware of any of our partners who have a mandatory registration. It would be pretty difficult, I think, to put in place, and I think that our strategy is to look at how we can ensure that more Canadians are aware of the potential value to them of having their coordinates on file with us so we can reach them quickly in case of emergency.
We've just come through one of the more intense Atlantic hurricane seasons we've seen, and that will help the travelling public's awareness this year. Our challenge is to make sure we can increase awareness without people having to go through those kinds of very difficult circumstances.
All missions have their own emergency plans, of course, that deal with how they would respond to different forms of emergency situations in country. There are all the ones you enumerated.
There is an emergency coordinator at each mission. Those plans are developed and exercised in coordination with headquarters, where we have a 24-7 emergency watch and response centre that works with an incident command structure that can be stood up and exponentially increased through bringing in call centre staff—several hundred, for example, in the case of hurricanes—with rotating 24-hour service.
In each country, each mission's jurisdiction has a plan in place to cover the kinds of emergencies that are most likely to occur, and they differ from country to country. In some places it's seismic risks from earthquakes. In other places it's civil unrest, and in other places it might be another form of natural disaster. Those plans are exercised, and we have a really rigorous lessons-learned process from past events.
For example, we are already implementing and have implemented the lessons learned from the hurricanes, and that includes expanding the use of mobile platforms. We're seeing people branching out into new media and texting. People don't call as often. They want to communicate in other ways. That's just one example.
All the lessons from previous evacuations and responses, whether it was the Lebanon evacuation or others, get incorporated into the emergency plans, which are more finely honed each time. That discipline and emergency planning and response are very important, and we coordinate here in Ottawa with the Government Operations Centre to connect us to the broader range of services.
You don't have any time, Madam Vandenbeld, but thank you for asking.
Colleagues, that would probably take us to the end of our discussion over the last hour or so. We'll need about 20 minutes in camera to do a few other things.
I think this is an extremely important discussion. We're aware that the Senate has looked at this issue once and is apparently thinking of looking at it in a different way again, so there's a lot of interest in consular affairs.
I think that's because the world is becoming a much smaller place and there are a lot of people moving around. Obviously, Canadians who can afford to travel are travelling in larger numbers all the time, and I think the importance of the work you do is becoming more pronounced as we see what that means on the ground in particular parts of the world. For example, I spend a lot of time in South America, and that's becoming more of a destination as people see it as a place to go, but there are some issues that surround those kinds of regions and the countries there.
Thank you very much for this opportunity to spend some time with you.
I would like to have you answer one thing for the committee. There have been some witnesses who have talked about more formal processes and agreements with other states, other countries, vis-à-vis our abilities to go into those countries—and vice versa—to work with our agencies. They talked about looking at doing that in a more formal setting, versus an ad hoc approach whereby maybe we ask for permission to go in. I'd be very interested in knowing if consular affairs and Global Affairs are looking at other ways we can make it easier for you to do your job. I'd be interested in that kind of background information at some point.
Again, on behalf of the committee, thank you very much. I'm sure you'll look forward to our report, as Global Affairs and the RCMP always do. Thank you, and it's very much appreciated.
Colleagues, we'll take a short break and then go in camera. Thank you.
[Proceedings continue in camera]