When thinking about public safety and collective security, Canadians are more likely to cite their fear of conventional crime than the risk of a terrorist attack or the threat posed by espionage. The fact is people are more likely to get hit by a drunk driver than stricken by a terrorist bomb or bribed by a foreign spy. Canada, however, is not splendidly isolated from the world and its problems.
The latest annual report of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), for example, says the terrorist threat "remains an immediate danger to public safety."
"Violent people and violent ideologies have greater reach than ever before. Al-Qaida and other groups continue to successfully recruit and mobilize terrorist operatives, and those same groups continue to identify Canada as an attractive target."
Foreign spies, the report added, have never been busier in Canada in pursuit of state and commercial secrets, particularly in the nuclear, aerospace and oil and gas sectors.
That's why Chuck Strahl had no choice but to resign as chair of the security intelligence review committee after it was discovered he was also acting as a lobbyist for pipeline giant Enbridge.
Mr. Strahl said ethics commissioner Mary Dawson approved his lobbying job, which merely reveals she could use a few pointers in national security.
Both Mr. Strahl and the ethics official displayed astounding naivete in believing he could oversee Canadian intelligence operations while simultaneously working in a field foreign powers have targeted as a means to further their strategic and economic interests.
The CSIS report said Canada is "an attractive target" for foreign intelligence services because of its advanced industrial and technological capabilities.
The risk is Canada could lose its competitive advantage in some fields, resulting in lost jobs and diminished corporate and government revenues. CSIS said it is also worried about the ability of cyber terrorists to shut down businesses and even municipal water supplies and power grids.
One of the most immediate concerns, however, is the large number of Canadians who have joined terrorist groups, including in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Algeria and elsewhere.
CSIS says some of these radicalized individuals could return home with operational skills that could be used against Canadians or taught to other extremists.
Canadian law enforcement has been successful so far in detecting terrorist plots before they unfold, but as the number of radicalized individuals rises, so will the number of potential incidents. CSIS, with an annual budget of $550 million, says it deals with "dozens" of priority operations at any one time.
In some respects, the CSIS report sounds alarmist. If so, that's because there are real threats to the security of individual Canadians and the Canadian economy. And with no evidence that extremism in the world is on the decline, Canadians should be aware of the complex and diverse range of threats.
The old-fashioned burglar may still be the greatest threat to most Canadians, but there are new kinds of criminals lurking in the shadows today. CSIS, which rarely engaged Canadians in the past, has taken a positive step in disclosing its views on the threat to the neighbourhood.