Analysis of the Risk Regulation Regime in Canada for Controlling Major Incidents Involving Dangerous Chemicals

Project Title

Understanding and responding to terrorist threats to critical infrastructure

Lead / Author

Kevin Quigley and Ben Bisset; Dalhousie University

Relevant Dates

Paper submitted August 2014. Fieldwork: July – November 2011, and July – October 2013.


This report is one of three from a study to examine how owners and operators of critical infrastructure understand and manage terrorist threats, and what lessons can be drawn. The approach pays particular attention to the differences between how people understand and prepare for complex but regular risks such as seasonal flooding, versus uncertain, potentially catastrophic risks such as terrorism, rare, large-scale natural disasters, or serious technological or process failure.

The focus of this report is on measures for safety (from accidents or acts of nature) and security (from intentional attacks) in place to prevent low-probability major incidents within the chemical sector, meaning facilities, both public and private, that manufacture, store or use large quantities of chemicals. Security within the water sector is also addressed given its extensive use of chemicals for treatment purposes. Building on previous research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, this report is based on interviews with representatives from water utilities, emergency management offices and fire departments, chemical industry associations, and government regulatory agencies.

Select Findings

The authors note that it is difficult to gauge the terrorism threat involving the chemicals sector, noting the small number of cases, and how the operational complexity of facilities goes some way to dissuading attack against them. They argue that, instead, examples like the ‘Toronto 18’ case demonstrate the more likely possibility: efforts to acquire and weaponize chemicals. The study suggests that despite the potential for considerable social and economic harm, and increasing public anxiety over incidents involving chemicals, the difficulty in calculating risk along with disincentives to spend on securing against rare incidents work against sufficient protection. In particular, the report argues that the reliance on industry self-regulation creates potential vulnerabilities such as inconsistent application of standards, especially given resource constraints for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as for small municipalities.

As possible solutions, the report presents a range of example safety and security measures, especially in information gathering and sharing, including between law enforcement and industry, such as the RCMP’s Suspicious Incident Reporting program. As well, the authors note how flexibility in collaboration between critical infrastructure operators and government can enable solutions tailored to local or sector-specific context. Generally, a finding is that safety measures are prioritized over security, and that forms of cooperation built to address accidents and acts of nature could be expanded to better cover security threats.

At the same time, the authors find disagreement across sectors about the functioning of, and the ways to improve, core mechanisms to support safety and security, such as information gathering and sharing. A chemical industry respondent, for example, argues that the ‘For Canadian Eyes Only’ restriction on some sensitive information creates a barrier given that the security operations of multinationals with presence in Canada are often headquartered outside of the country. More generally, water utilities and fire fighters are found to favor open information exchange and greater government intervention for clarity and guidance on storage of dangerous chemicals, while industry representatives prefer of self-regulation and on-demand, context-specific information about threats. Some respondents argue that more such information products are needed, though all report strong working relationships with local police, RCMP and CSIS, and there is consensus on the need for ongoing effort to influence industry behaviour in protection of high-risk facilities.

Recommendations from the study include improved information sharing such as data resources for emergency responders about storage of dangerous chemicals, and identification of expertise and resources at the national level for rapid deployment in the event of major incidents. As well, the authors propose support for the unique needs of SMEs, to help build on existing safety and security practices. Finally, with regard to proposed areas for future study, the researchers highlight the need to better understand cyber risks for the sector, as well as how to find the right balance between transparency and security towards sensible oversight and effective information sharing.

Further Information

Analysis of the Risk Regulation Regime in Canada for Controlling Major Incidents Involving Dangerous Chemicals

Related Initiatives

Kevin Quigley and Bryan Mills, “An Analysis of Transportation Security Risk Regulation Regimes: Canadian Airports, Seaports, Rail, Trucking and Bridges,” Dalhousie University, 2014.

Kevin Quigley and Ben Bisset, “Analysis of the Regulatory Regime for Controlling Risks Related to the Canadian Food Supply Chain,” Dalhousie University, 2014.

Nicole Tishler, “C, B, R, or N: The Influence of Related Industry on Terrorists' Choice in Unconventional Weapons,” TSAS Working Paper Series, 2013.



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