TORONTO – Canada's (search) borders are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks because of "serious weaknesses" in the public security system, the country's auditor said Tuesday, as another official sniped at a new U.S. passport requirement.
Washington announced Tuesday that Americans will need passports to re-enter the United States from Canada by 2008. Similarly, Canadians will also have to present a passport to enter the United States, U.S. officials said.
Canada's Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan countered that Americans may also be required to use passports to cross the border.
Asked about the changes in an Associated Press interview, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said the United States had to take every precaution to screen out "people who want to come in to hurt us." Rice said the changes were made after consultation with Mexico, Canada and others in the Western Hemisphere.
Canadas Auditor General Sheila Fraser (search) said that despite billions of dollars spent since the 2001 terror attacks in the United States, Canada's borders are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
"There are too many weaknesses, and risks are heightened because of those weaknesses,"
Fraser said in Ottawa after introducing her report on national security to Parliament.
Airport screeners let some "threat objects," such as fake bombs and guns, slip through mock security checks, but the results from the tests are classified, Fraser said.
On the question of passports and its bearing on security, Fraser said Canada's Passport Office is plagued by inadequate watch lists, outdated technology and poor record-checking.
Some examiners operate without security clearances, criminal watch lists lacked key police and immigration data and passport officers were not supplied with basic tools, such as magnifying glasses. she said.
The Passport Office, she said, has been swamped with an increase in applications.
"Now they really need to turn their attention to security," she told CBC TV.
The security review also said the federal Public Safety Department still doesn't know who would take the lead in the event of a national disaster.
"Last year, I said Sept. 11, 2001, changed our perception of how safe we are and led to higher expectations for our security," Fraser said. "The government still has work to do to meet those expectations."
The report said improvements have been made in marine security, but "serious weaknesses" remain in emergency preparedness and air transport security.
Canada has already spent some $8 billion since the Sept. 11 attacks to improve security along its 4,000-mile border and it intends to spend another $1 billion in the coming year.
The government estimated that it needs to train 6,000 emergency personnel, but only some 200 are fully prepared to handle a major attack.
Among other shortcomings, the report said the federal government still had no emergency plan in place for major power failures like the one that plunged much of Ontario and northeastern United States into darkness nearly two years ago. Despite the 2003 blackout, officials were "unable to provide us with plans to address energy shortages," the report said.