Police hold the line as protesters gather during a demonstration, part of a convoy-style protest participants are calling "Rolling Thunder", in Ottawa, Saturday, April 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

CSIS definition of security threat not relevant to cabinet decision: ex-CSIS director

A former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director says the spy agency’s interpretation of what constitutes a national security threat is not relevant when it comes to a government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act.

Ward Elcock, who led CSIS from 1994 to 2004, is testifying as an expert on national security at a policy discussion held by the Public Order Emergency Commission.

The commission is tasked with probing the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act during the “Freedom Convoy” protest last winter and has a mandate to offer recommendations to modernize the legislation.

The CSIS definition of a national security threat is written into the Emergencies Act as one of the requirements for the government to declare a public order emergency.

Over six weeks of fact-finding testimony, the commission heard that CSIS did not believe the protests that blockaded downtown Ottawa and several U.S. border crossings met the threshold of being a threat to Canada’s security — at least in the context of its own operations.

Elcock says CSIS would need to interpret that definition very differently as an intelligence agency than cabinet would when it comes to deciding whether to declare a national emergency.

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