A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa, May 14, 2013. CSIS employees see the work needed to obtain judicial warrants as “a necessary evil” that detracts from more valuable activities, says an independent review that calls for a cultural shift inside the spy agency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa, May 14, 2013. CSIS employees see the work needed to obtain judicial warrants as “a necessary evil” that detracts from more valuable activities, says an independent review that calls for a cultural shift inside the spy agency. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

CSIS sees warrant process as ‘burdensome’ and a ‘necessary evil’: federal review

A year ago former federal deputy minister of justice asked to review CSIS

OTTAWA — Canadian Security Intelligence Service employees see the spadework needed to obtain a judicial warrant as “a necessary evil” that detracts from more valuable activities, says an independent review that calls for a cultural shift inside the spy agency.

The review, obtained by The Canadian Press, found that ineffective training, excessive secrecy and a generally poor understanding of responsibilities contributed to CSIS failing to meet its obligation of full and frank disclosure to the Federal Court when seeking investigative warrants.

The problems have prompted judges to criticize CSIS for falling short of its “duty of candour” to the court, including a recent case in which the spy agency neglected to disclose its reliance on information that was likely collected illegally in support of warrants to probe extremism.

In September 2019, CSIS director David Vigneault asked Morris Rosenberg, a former federal deputy minister of justice, to conduct an independent review with the aim of addressing the ongoing difficulties.

Rosenberg, who had access to CSIS documentation and employees, examined spy service policies, procedures and operational files, as well as Federal Court transcripts relating to warrant applications.

He also consulted Justice Department lawyers, including those assigned to CSIS, and officials from the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, a spy agency watchdog.

“While warrants are seen as an essential investigatory tool, work supporting the warrant acquisition process is seen as burdensome and has not been valued in the culture of the Service,” Rosenberg concluded.

“Supporting positions are difficult to staff as the role is seen as career limiting in a culture where status and advancement are generally associated with operational roles.”

The review says the role of the affiant, a CSIS employee who swears to a supporting affidavit, “is seen as a necessary evil, done on the side of the desk, and taking away from intelligence work.”

The Canadian Press recently obtained a redacted version of the secret review, completed early this year, through the Access to Information Act.

Among Rosenberg’s other findings:

— Employees’ understanding of the duty of candour varies, even among supervisors, with some senior managers unaware of the protocol;

— Inadequate time and resources are allocated for training;

— The role of the Federal Court is not valued or understood, and employees do not understand the reasons for court decisions;

— There were clashes between the duty to be forthcoming with the “need to know culture” at CSIS that emphasizes shielding sensitive intelligence;

— Court findings of a breach of the duty of candour have been followed by inconsistent implementation of corrective measures.

The review urges improvements including better training and clarification of roles, but says they won’t succeed without addressing the “cultural issues around warrants.”

In a note accompanying the review, CSIS said it agreed with Rosenberg’s findings, adding they reveal issues that go beyond the service’s disclosure responsibilities with the court.

As a result, Vigneault has launched a project that will draw on the review, consider concerns raised in recent Federal Court rulings and build on other initiatives already underway, the note said.

CSIS spokesman John Townsend said that since the launch of the project in June there has been extensive engagement with employees to solicit ideas.

The project aims to adapt existing policies and practices, as well as provide extensive training to employees, Townsend said.

Training modules developed to date focus on increasing awareness of CSIS’s candour requirements as well as clarifying roles and responsibilities for operational employees, affiants and counsel, he said.

In a ruling made public in July, Federal Court Justice Patrick Gleeson found CSIS had breached its duty of candour to the court in probing extremism, part of a troubling pattern dating back years.

“Having approved operations that were on their face illegal, the service then collected information which in turn was put before this court in support of warrant applications, without notifying the court of the likely illegality,” Gleeson’s ruling said.

“The circumstances raise fundamental questions relating to respect for the rule of law, the oversight of security intelligence activities and the actions of individual decision-makers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020.

CSIS

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

Just Posted

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

Red Deer teacher Janelle Van Tetering had her students write letters to attach to Blankets of Hope, which will be donated to the Mustard Seed. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer teacher, students donate ‘Blankets of Hope’ to those in need

A Red Deer teacher and her students are giving warm blankets and… Continue reading

RCMP have charged a Sylvan Lake man for allegedly defrauding five people of more than $100,000.
Advocate file photo
20-year-old woman killed in collision: Blackfalds RCMP

A 20-year-old woman was killed in a collision on Saturday, says Blackfalds… Continue reading

Patrick Malkin, co-owner of The Granary Kitchen, says he wants the provincial government to lift COVID-19 restrictions that shutdown in-person dining. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer restaurant owner ‘frustrated’ in-person dining restrictions are still in place

Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the restrictions won’t yet be eased this past Thursday

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Toronto Maple Leafs' Alexander Kerfoot, centre, tries to get the puck past Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom, right, as Noah Hanifin looks on during first period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Morgan Reilly’s three assists lifts Maple Leafs to 3-2 win over Flames

Leafs 3 Flames 2 CALGARY — Morgan Reilly’s three assists helped the… Continue reading

Green Bay Packers' Adrian Amos (31) reacts after intercepting a pass intended for Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Mike Evans during the second half of the NFC championship NFL football game in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Road warriors: Bucs win 31-26 at Green Bay, reach Super Bowl

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ road… Continue reading

People arrive to be tested for COVID-19 at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, January 24, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Too soon to know if Canada’s COVID-19 case decline will continue, Tam says

MONTREAL — It’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward… Continue reading

Flowers are seen at the front door of Dr. Denis Vincent's dental practice in North Vancouver, B.C. on March 31, 2020, after he died of COVID-19. The British Columbia Dental Association has written a letter to Premier John Horgan urging him to include dentists in a priority group for the COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dentists, teachers disappointed they won’t be prioritized for vaccine in B.C.

VANCOUVER — Dentists and teachers are among the groups that are disappointed… Continue reading

Indiana Pacers guard Justin Holiday (8) shoots over Toronto Raptors forward DeAndre' Bembry (95) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Anunoby’s hot hand helps short-handed Raptors beat Pacers

Raptors 107 Pacers 102 INDIANAPOLIS — OG Anunoby scored a season-high 30… Continue reading

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

OTTAWA — Under fluorescent lights, Wendy Muckle surveys the supervised consumption site… Continue reading

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) headquarters Connaught Building is pictured in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. nbsp; THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Taxpayers’ watchdog sees complaints spike, raising worries about pandemic tax season

OTTAWA — Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office has seen a steep… Continue reading

Most Read