Sunday, April 12, 2015

SIRC Is Broken


Canadian spy agency’s overseer can’t really oversee:

By: Alex Boutilier Staff Reporter, Published on Wed Apr 01 2015

OTTAWA—CSIS’s review body admits it can only review a “small number” of the spy agency’s actions each year, as the government continues to resist calls for oversight into Canada’s intelligence agencies.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) warned that continued vacancies on the five-person board, the inability to investigate CSIS operations with other agencies, and delays in CSIS providing required information are “key risks” to its mandate.

“Currently, SIRC reviews still lack the ability to ‘follow the thread’ of a CSIS investigation if it involves another government department or agency,” the SIRC wrote in documents tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

“SIRC’s effectiveness is dependent on (CSIS’s) timely provision of information. In those cases where there are delays in receiving information, SIRC is at risk of being unable to complete its reviews and investigations in a timely manner.”

SIRC is a five-person committee (currently with a compliment of four members) supported by 18 full-time staff and a budget of $2.87 million this year, according to the documents. CSIS, the sprawling agency the committee is mandated to review, has a budget of around $500 million a year.

The committee has had two abrupt departures in the wake of scandal in recent years. Arthur Porter, who is currently in Panama but expected to be extradited to Canada to face fraud charges, resigned in 2011 after information about his past business dealings surfaced.

Chuck Strahl, a former Conservative cabinet minister, stepped down after the Vancouver Observer revealed he was lobbying for an oil firm while CSIS monitored pipeline protests.

Deborah Grey, another former Conservative MP and current acting chair of SIRC, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

While SIRC is already facing challenges, its job is unlikely to get any easier in years to come.

Bill C-51, currently before Parliament, drastically expands CSIS powers to investigate and “disrupt” potential threats to Canada’s national security. The majority Conservatives have introduced minor amendments in the face of widespread criticism of the bill, but have resisted calls to create any form of oversight for Canada’s intelligence agencies.

The government contends the requirement to obtain a warrant when CSIS wants to break the law or violate Charter rights amounts to “judicial oversight.” Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has referred to parliamentary oversight as “needless red tape,” and the Conservatives have repeatedly said the SIRC provides adequate supervision for Canada’s spooks.

But in SIRC’s report, the committee acknowledged they can only review a “small number of CSIS activities in any given year,” and those reviews come only after the actions have been taken.

“Parliament has given CSIS powers to enhance the security of Canadians. SIRC ensures that these powers are used appropriately and in accordance with the rule of law in order to protect Canadians rights and freedoms,” the report reads. “To do this, SIRC examines past operations of the Service and conducts investigations.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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