The National Security Community’s Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The National Security Community’s Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

We have completed almost a full year under severe restrictions required to limit the spread of COVID19, and the tunnel ahead is still dark. A global shutdown of this magnitude has few parallels in history. What will this do to our lives? How will it alter national security for Canadians? What conclusions should we draw about maintaining a pandemic warning function, anticipating criminal and security threats, and protecting vulnerable communities such as refugees and migrants?


It is hard to see all the consequences of a disaster when you are still living it. The global economy has crashed. Over two million people have died so far. All of us have had social and work ties severed. Many of us work at home, and many live in fear of infection.

Some of the likely challenges of this transformation of everyday life were quickly obvious. We work at home on computers in an era of cyber-attacks. Some questions are also obvious. Why were we so unprepared when the need for preparation had been exhaustively discussed for years?


Our panellists have studied some of the questions to which we need answers when we return to some imitation of normalcy. Why was the Canadian GHPHN warning system diverted to domestic information gathering just before it could have delivered its most valuable international intelligence? We know some of the details but need to understand more clearly how such a critical policy miscalculation could have been made. Julianne Piper will focus on lessons learned based on research by herself and Kelley Lee.

Refugees and Immigrants go through a challenging process of moving and acclimatization to a new country, slowly acquiring the means to live the life they aspired. How are they impacted by the sudden collapse of their hopes? Diana Rayes will speak to the dilemmas of refugee and migrant communities, many of whom had only a partial grip on the bottom rungs of the social and economic ladder before the pandemic crisis.

Understanding the world, we are about to live in will be our preoccupation for many years to come.

At the other end of the immigration and refugee programs is the process of removal of those who have failed to establish their right to stay in Canada. Their status is frozen by the shutdown of travel options. There may be new obstacles to removal when travel options again become available. Simon Wallace will speak to the legal and human rights questions that will need to be considered.

The pandemic has created a mental health crisis, accelerated an existing drug crisis, and provided opportunities for criminals to exploit new vulnerabilities. Protecting society has required new behaviours, many mandated by law. Opportunity, anger and frustration have generated still more threats—misinformation, conspiracy theories, extremism, fraud and even threats to democracy. Michael Nesbit and Tara Hansen will describe the multiple challenges now faced by an increasingly overburdened justice system.

The global economy and global society cannot be battered for a prolonged period without far-reaching and long-lasting consequences. Understanding the world, we are about to live in will be our preoccupation for many years to come. To respond effectively requires all the study, reflection and discussion we can generate.

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