The automatic security detail provided to Canada's prime minister and Governor General does not need to be expanded to include all federal party leaders like Justin Trudeau, despite the brazen break-in of his home over the weekend, a security analyst says.
“I don’t think it’s required, I think it should be done on a case-by-case basis,” said security expert Ty Watts, who provided security for VIPs during his 32 years with the RCMP.
“In order to provide all the security for all those other people, the costs would be huge and I just don’t think that the money, the expense, the time for the guys to train the people to do the job, I don’t think there’s enough there to warrant it.”
The RCMP’s National Division Protective Operations unit is charged with providing security to federal politicians and visiting dignitaries. Only the prime minister and the Governor General receive an automatic security detail, a policy that is not extended to any of the other federal party leaders.
“We have to draw the line somewhere," said security expert Larry Busch, who was in charge of the RCMP's VIP security section for Ontario. "We base our risk assessments on history as well. Given the fact that we’ve had very few acts or violent acts against any previously sitting prime ministers or members of Parliament, that would be taken into consideration.
"We have to consider, OK, if we’re going to do this, who is going to pay for it?”
An exception is made during a federal election campaign, when the opposition party leaders are given security protection.
"During the election, the RCMP provides a full detail," former Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff said in an email to CBC News. "Otherwise, no security."
"When in our Parliament Hill offices, I did have security, as I discovered when I inadvertently pressed a button on my office, on the first day, and had Hill police in the office in 90 seconds," he said.
However, RCMP patrols do go past Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition, Ignatieff added.
"While we were in residence, we were aware that they were providing regular patrols for the whole area, i.e. for the embassies and other residences," he said.
The RCMP is currently conducting a risk assessment to determine whether Trudeau needs a security detail after someone broke into his Ottawa home on Saturday and left a threatening letter atop several large kitchen knives.
Trudeau's wife and three children were asleep in the home when the break-in occurred. The intruder left a note that said the knives could have been taken and that the family should consider locking their doors, according to sources close to the investigation. Trudeau was away in Winnipeg during the break-in.
'Minister decides they need security'
Security for party leaders, members of Parliament, cabinet ministers or federal justices can be provided RCMP security but only if the public safety minister determines that their safety is at risk.
"If there is a need to provide security to them, and the minister decides they need security, then that responsibility will fall to us," said RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Lucy Shorey,
Regarding the Trudeau home break-in, the office of Public Safety Minister Steve Blaney issued a statement Monday: "This matter is being currently dealt with by the RCMP which has the operational expertise when it comes to ensuring the security of political leaders."
Busch said the RCMP will be drawing up a physical risk assessment which includes Trudeau's house, the grounds, the access from the street and crime in the neighbourhood. They will also look into whether there have been other threats against Trudeau that are not public knowledge.
"They [might] say there have been a number of these in the past, maybe the number of these is increasing," Busch said.
While security breeches against federal politicians are rare, they have occurred, most notably the 2005 break in at 24 Sussex Drive where André Dallaire entered the prime minister's residence with the intent of killing Jean Chrétien, who was there with his wife Aline.
Unlike U.S. presidents, former prime ministers do not retain their security detail once they vacate office. However, the RCMP may provide security to former prime ministers, again, based on any perceived threats.
"I know that former primer minister [Brian] Mulroney has had security at different times,” Watts said. "I believe that Chrétien has also taken advantage of it."
As well, if the government asks a former prime minister to represent the country at a foreign conference, "they would be entitled to a level of security that the RCMP would decide upon, based on risk assessment," Busch said.
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