The Four Pillars of Public Safety Canada

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Public Safety Canada (PSC) has one of the broadest mandates of any government department, responsible for managing natural and human threats, both domestic and international. PSC’s work is organized around four public safety pillars:

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In this blog, we’ll be exploring Public Safety Canada’s history and its current role in keeping Canadians safe, as well as taking a closer look at each of the four public safety pillars and how they work in real terms.

What is Public Safety Canada?

Public Safety Canada, legally known as the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (PSEPC), was created in 2003 to improve coordination between Canada’s various national, local and provincial security agencies. Agencies that the department oversees include:

  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP): Canada’s federal police service. They also provide provincial law enforcement services in all provinces and territories except Quebec and Ontario.
  • The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA): The law enforcement agency responsible for border control, customs, and immigration.
  • The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS): A national intelligence service plays a role analogous to the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). CSIS collects and analyses intelligence about Canada’s national security both domestically and internationally.
  • The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC): CSC manages operations and staffing in Canada’s corrections system, including a majority of its prisons.
  • The Parole Board of Canada: The Parole Board works closely with CSC and has jurisdiction over parole and pardoning of convicted criminal offenders.

Canada is a vast nation, and the potential threats to its security are complex. That’s why it was deemed necessary to create an organization to help security agencies with overlapping areas of concern work together. 

Collectively, Public Safety Canada and its child agencies had a budget of over $9 billion in 2020, and more than 66,000 employees across the country—see this look at what a public safety officer’s job entails for one example. PSC also frequently works with communities, the private sector, and even other countries.

Virtually every job related to security in Canada will therefore have some involvement with PSC. This makes understanding the four public safety pillars important for anyone interested in the field.

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Four Public Safety Pillars

What are the public safety pillars? Briefly, they are the way Public Safety Canada classifies its agendas. Each pillar contains a number of related initiatives, from high-level strategic plans for addressing potential threats to local programs that put that policy into action. We review the four pillars below.

Pillar I: National Security

When we think of national security, the first images that come to mind may be military: army units mustering to repel an invasion, or fighter jets being scrambled from an aircraft carrier. While the armed forces do have a significant role to play in national security, the work of preparing for and responding to threats takes many forms.

Many national security specialists work in offices as analysts. Others, such as intelligence agents, rove the country (and the world) inspecting far-flung field offices. Even local responders, like police, ambulance, and fire, run drills in alignment with PSC policies to prepare for wartime measures or acts of domestic terrorism.

Public Safety Canada highlights the following key facets of the national security pillar:

  • Counter-terrorism: While Canada has experienced fewer international or domestic terrorism acts than the US, tragedies like the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting are a reminder that attacks can happen here. PSC counter-terrorism efforts include the Federal Terrorism Response Plan (FTRP); Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence (CCCEPV); and implementation of the national counter-terrorism strategy.
  • Connecting with Canadian Communities: A goal of PSC is to involve Canadian communities in the national security discussion. Allowing their concerns to be heard and to feel a sense of ownership of their role in public safety is essential to getting them to buy-in to the strategy.
  • Counter-proliferation: Counter-proliferation refers to strategies for reducing the worldwide spread of weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons pose grave threats to humanity. That’s why Canada maintains strong policies to limit dissemination of the technical knowledge and resources required to build them.
  • Critical Infrastructure: Canada’s economy and essential services rely on infrastructure like bridges, dams, and power grids—which makes these glaring vulnerabilities in the event of attack. PSC works with infrastructure partners and stakeholders to reduce risk and improve resiliency.
  • Cyber Security: Just as physical infrastructure presents a defensive liability, so too does digital infrastructure. PSC employs numerous technicians and cyber security experts to keep government and private industry secure from technological attacks.

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Pillar II: Border Strategies

National borders are spaces of fabulous complexity. Consider the following:

  • In a normal year, The National Post reports that an average of over 215,000 people cross from the United States into Canada by land each day, plus over 55,000 by air.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers plunged. The same report found that by June of 2020 barely 7,300 people per day were crossing the border, a drop of over 97% percent.

This is an extreme example, but it’s evidence of just how quickly matters at the world’s longest undefended border can shift when the circumstances demand.

Public Safety Canada is responsible for coordinating federal policymakers, law enforcement, and border authorities in other countries. PSC breaks down its border strategies pillar into the following categories:

  • Immigration enforcement
  • Border law enforcement
  • Customs enforcement
  • Preclearance in Canada and the United States

For the most part, Canada’s border policy has been focused on optimizing the timely movement of people and goods from the United States to reap the benefits of neighbouring a global economic powerhouse.

Yet, when a public health emergency descended, these same agencies and institutions had to adapt in a flash to enforce stern and consistent quarantine protocols across thousands of points of entry.

Executing this pivot required numerous agencies to work together seamlessly, while interpreting new or unfamiliar procedures. Despite the aforementioned 97% reduction in travel at the border, coping with the “new normal” under COVID may go down as one of Canada’s more remarkable achievements in border strategy. Without PSC’s policy guidance and coordination, it’s hard to imagine this process going as smoothly as it did.

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Pillar III: Countering Crime

Countering crime may be the broadest of the public safety pillars, as it covers the likes of policing, criminal justice, and corrections. Each of these aspects of countering crime has been a part of Canadian society since as far back as Confederation. Over the years, however, both crime and the way society views law enforcement have evolved.

As Public Safety Minister William Blair notes in his forward to the 2021-22 Departmental Plan, PSC has announced a new “commitment to taking action to address systemic inequities and the overrepresentation of certain groups in the criminal justice system.” Some of these efforts include:

  • Recognizing First Nations policing as “an essential service” and increasing the number of Indigenous communities who maintain their own law enforcement.
  • Parole reform.
  • Increasing civilian oversight of the RCMP and CBSA to “improve transparency, combat systemic discrimination, and reassure the public that Canada’s law enforcement system is being held to a high degree of accountability.”

While police continue to focus on traditional areas of concern, such as violent crime, gun control, and contraband, recent PSC policy has taken a strong interest in cyber-crime. This includes tightening law enforcement on the internet, and responding to sophisticated new forms of fraud.

In an increasingly digital world, Canadians’ private personal, medical, and financial information is at greater risk of being compromised—at a time when possessing this information is more lucrative than ever. PSC’s challenge is to improve Canada’s information security infrastructure, and to disrupt the local and global criminal networks that seek to take advantage of its weaknesses.

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Pillar IV: Emergency Management

Emergencies can be natural, manmade, or technological. They can be the results of accidents, oversights, or malice. Whatever their cause, the emergency management public safety pillar operates on a cycle:

  • Prevention and Mitigation

Before a dam bursts, cracks in the foundations appear. If those cracks can be addressed before they widen, the dam may be saved. And even if there’s no salvaging it, the people in harm’s way can be warned, and steps taken to reduce the catastrophe.

In this fashion, Public Safety Canada is constantly assessing potential risks to Canadians. (And while the dam we’re talking about here is largely a metaphor for PSC’s work, sometimes a dam is a dam.) Thanks to these efforts, the number of actual emergencies is dwarfed by the number that never come to pass.

  • Emergency Preparedness

PSC coordinates with other governments and federal agencies to ensure Canada is prepared for the worst. This can take the form of creating emergency response plans, supporting first responder training, and sharing information gathered from previous crises.

  • Responding to Emergency Events

Inevitably, disasters happen. When they do, PSC may also be involved in administering active response to emergencies. When a crisis is severe enough to be of national concern, PSC’s Government Operations Centre (GOC) provides “watch, warning, analysis, planning, logistics support and coordination” to stakeholders.

  • Recovery from Disasters

Finally, PSC contributes to recovery via Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA), which allocate federal aid to provinces and territories in the event of a large-scale natural disaster.

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Prepare for Public Safety at Wilfrid Laurier University

This examination of the four public safety pillars barely scratches the surface. Public safety occupations are as varied as the threats they exist to neutralize.

For those interested in advancing in the profession, Wilfrid Laurier University’s online Master of Public Safety is uniquely aligned with the pillars of Public Safety Canada. Many students in the program already work in public safety and find that their coursework can be immediately integrated into their workplace.

Laurier’s courses are 100% online, allowing students to complete their degree from anywhere in the world according to their own schedule. In addition, the school also offers Graduate Diplomas in Public Safety, allowing students to earn a qualification quickly and also build towards the completion of the Master’s program.

To learn more about how Laurier can help progress your career in public safety, connect with an Enrolment Advisor today.