Representatives from industry, government, academia and defence converged on Toronto this December to tackle a topic that effects us all — Canada’s safety and security.
The conference, “Business and Technology Opportunities in National Security and Public Safety,” brought together key players in the public and private sectors to facilitate the improvement of Canada’s capacity to detect and respond to any national emergency, be it a terrorist attack, a natural disaster or pandemic disease.
The event was chaired by Julian Fantino, Commissioner of Emergency Management for the Province of Ontario and former chief of the Toronto Police Service, and Dr. James Young, special advisor to the Deputy Minister, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.
“It is incumbent upon us to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Young told delegates during his presentation on assessing, managing and communicating risk.
The event focused on combining public and private efforts to protect critical infrastructure in the face of a disaster, be it man-made or natural. All aspects of security were addressed, from information security and privacy issues, to border protection and transportation safety.
Perhaps the most compelling speaker was terrorism expert Carleton University’s (Ottawa, ON) Martin Rudner, PhD, director of the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies. His session examined the battlefields of Iraq as the new training ground for the next generation of terrorists. Rudner pointed out the changing target of terrorist activity — the aforementioned critical infrastructure — and discussed lessons that can be gleaned from recent incidents, such as the July 7 subway and bus bombings in London.
In his opening address, Fantino emphasized that while many Canadians still consider the country relatively immune to terrorist attacks, events such as the London bombings should offer more than enough reason to be vigilant.
“We can never be completely protected from a terrorist incident,” he explained. “We clearly are living in an era of thinking the unthinkable.”
Fantino also pointed out the need for all levels of government to maintain communication and co-operation, adding that “every emergency or disaster is a local event.”
Other speakers, such as Stephen E. Flynn, stressed the importance of transparency between private-sector developers of security and defence technologies, policy-makers, regulators and end-users. Only then, Flynn argued, can we truly reap the full benefits of the technological advancements designed to protect our nations. Author of America the Vulnerable: How Our Government is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism, Flynn is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies with the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
The private sector offered another huge component of the conference, with sessions led by representatives of IBM Corp. (Armonk, NY), Cisco Systems Inc. (San Jose, CA), and Anteon Corp. (Fairfax, VA), showcasing how industry can help the public sector better prepare for and respond to potential disasters.
Well-attended and compelling, this type of public-private summit was non-existent 10 years ago, according to co-chair Young. But with terrorist fears, potentially deadly epidemics and devastating natural disasters dominating the media landscape in 2005, the need for such a conference could not be greater.

“Business and Technology Opportunities in National Security and Public Safety” was organized by the Conference Board of Canada (Ottawa), in collaboration with Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.