Secrecy vow gags officials: records

More than 12,000 current and former federal intelligence officials must take the secrets of their most sensitive work to the grave, newly obtained records show.

OTTAWA — More than 12,000 current and former federal intelligence officials must take the secrets of their most sensitive work to the grave, newly obtained records show.

The number of people “permanently bound to secrecy” is more than double the figure expected in 2003 when the government began putting the provisions in place after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Security of Information Act updated several elements of Canada’s antiquated legal regime covering classified information.

The secrecy law forbids discussion of “special operational information” including past and current confidential sources, targets of intelligence operations, names of spies, military attack plans, and encryption or other means of protecting information.

Revealing such information could result in up to 14 years in prison.

The Canadian Press obtained records under the Access to Information Act that indicate the officials sworn to secrecy are spread among more than two dozen agencies and departments.

Notes prepared by the Treasury Board Secretariat say individuals forever bound to secrecy are “held to a higher level of accountability” than others under the secrecy law.

It means unauthorized disclosures are subject to penalty whether the information is true or not and even if it was obtained after the employee left a sensitive post.

The database of people bound to secrecy, maintained by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, includes those automatically designated through their current or past employment with a spy service or other listed agency.

It also covers federal employees and contractors selected for inclusion due to their access to “special operational information.”

The Canadian Press obtained records under the Access to Information Act that indicate the officials sworn to secrecy are spread among more than two dozen agencies and departments.

The RCMP, CSIS, the Communications Security Establishment — the government’s electronic eavesdropping agency — and Foreign Affairs top the list.

The secrecy designation is meant to send a stern signal to the intelligence community, said Stuart Farson, an adjunct professor of political science at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

“It’s really there to try and keep the system under wraps,” he said.

“It’s part of developing a consciousness of security about sensitive information, and making sure that you only discuss particular information on a need-to-know basis.

“My own view is there are very few actual secrets.”

The new information about those bound to secrecy in Canada comes amid debate over the ongoing WikiLeaks release of confidential U.S. notes written by American diplomats around the globe.

It is believed the cables in question were widely available within the U.S. intelligence community. That left former CSIS director Reid Morden wondering how such a leak could be prevented.

“If you’ve got however many thousand people on a secret distribution list, can we be surprised that somebody’s going to spill the beans?” he asked.

Despite the Security of Information Act provisions for individuals like himself, Morden suspects it would take the disclosure of a genuinely damaging secret to trigger a prosecution.

“In today’s world of YouTube and Facebook and so on, I think despite whatever any given act says you have to keep to yourself, very few people actually believe you have to keep everything to yourself anymore,” he said.

The federal circle of those bound to secrecy has likely expanded to include people outside the traditional intelligence community — such as special advocates involved as counsel in sensitive court cases, said Craig Forcese, a University of Ottawa law professor.

Forcese wonders how people without a lifelong allegiance to the security world will deal with the notion of perpetual secrecy.

“If you’re not part of the team, and you’re not part of that culture, you might start chafing under these constraints,” he said.

“So I think it’s going to be really complex for these people in a way that’s not complex for the person who goes into the CSIS office every morning.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read