Home Politics Opposition may not care about PM’s safety, but the rest of us should

Opposition may not care about PM’s safety, but the rest of us should

News report: PM’s use of Canadian cars in India criticized

For the life of me, I don’t understand why the Opposition would complain about the RCMP’s decision to utilize their own equipment and vehicles for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s trade mission to India. How quickly folks forget. We are approaching the four year anniversary of the Islamist terrorist attack in Mumbai. British and American citizens were targeted, and at least 164 people died as a result of 11 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks over a three day period. Hotels, hospitals, a Jewish Community Centre, the Port, the Leopold Café….

This wasn’t the first well-orchestrated attack in Mumbai, either. In 1993, 13 coordinated bombs killed 257 people and injured an additional 700.

Politicians from around the region are regularly the subject of specific attacks. Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto have all been murdered, for example. Sometimes even by their own bodyguards, making the use of locally-provided armoured vehicles a clear security risk to any politician. Mohandas Gandhi, the modern day poster boy of non-violent political protest, was assassinated in 1948. This part of the world is sadly home to individuals who far too often deal with political struggles using methods beyond the ballot box.

It took the failed assassination of Pope John Paul II for his security team to face up to the constant threat that hangs over any and all modern day Catholic Popes. And let’s not forget U.S. President William McKinley, who – for publicity reasons – asked his bodyguards to step aside at a public reception in Buffalo, New York to make room for his Secretary and the President of the Pan American Exposition to stand beside him; he was assassinated a few minutes later. In fact, direct attempts have been made against the lives of at least 10 U.S. Presidents; many of which have been successful.

During my time in the Prime Minister’s Office some twenty years ago, it became clear that the protective bubble around the PM of the day would do little to prevent a semi-intelligent person from actually killing our Head of Government if they so desired. The public might recall a 1991 labour protest that surrounded Prime Minister Mulroney and his wife Mila, where in the jostling she was struck on the head by a 3 or 4 foot long wooden picket stick. Seems minor, perhaps, but it was indicative of the risks they were exposed to at the time. If you worked on the PMO staff in Langevin Block, at least at the west end of the hall, you knew that the RCMP’s VIP Unit presented the worst of both worlds: the media thought it demonstrated an Imperial presence, and yet the security gaps were so frequent that there was little point in spending the money in the first place.

And how can one forget the infamous and terrifying night when it was left to Aline Chretien to defend she and her husband, then PM Jean Chretien, at 2:10 am from a knife-wielding intruder on the second floor of 24 Sussex Drive. Despite standing in front of security cameras, smashing a window, and spending 30 minutes on the main floor of the PM’s residence before going upstairs with his knife at the ready, the perp went unnoticed. Mrs. Chretien defused the situation, and a telephone call to the RCMP brought their specialized security team to the “rescue” a very long seven minutes later.

Our nation’s military and political leaders have played an important role in trying to rid Afghanistan of its terrorist militia for more than a decade. That battle spills into Pakistan with much frequency, making the leadership of every major international player a target of the very same types of terrorist groups that have been so successful executing politicians in India for decades.

I’m relieved that the current RCMP brass have taken their VIP protective role much more seriously over the past five years. And if that requires them to ferry their own vehicles to India, then they deserve a pat on the back for recognizing the obvious security risk that a Prime Ministerial trade mission presents. India is going to be an important player in the economic success of this century. According to 2006 census data, 1.3 million Canadians are of South Asian origin; 4x that of the combined Latin, Central and South American nations. This diaspora are a meaningful weapon that should help solidify the commercial and political alliance that’s underway between two Commonwealth nations. The PM’s exactly where he should be, and the RCMP appear to be doing a far better job at keeping our leaders safe than ever before.

The Opposition may not care, but the rest of us should.


(disclosure: this blog, as always, reflects a personal view and is not meant to represent the views of the TPA, its Board/Staff or the federal government)

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One Response

  1. Ian

    Liked the blog post Mark.

    I have to admit I really fail to understand what the issue is with having the PM and his security team focused on … security and safety of the PM. You make some great points about the this being a potentially dangerous part of the world with a history of assassinations and terrorist attacks. The measures taken seem to be reasonable and precautionary IMHO.

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