Security agencies flag possible pitfalls of heightened scrutiny

As the Liberals prepare to bolster a review of national spy services, two federal security agencies have flagged serious headaches that might come with more scrutiny, internal documents show.

OTTAWA — As the Liberals prepare to bolster a review of national spy services, two federal security agencies have flagged serious headaches that might come with more scrutiny, internal documents show.

The RCMP fears more eyes looking over its shoulder could compromise criminal investigations, while the electronic spies at the Communications Security Establishment warn against creating a super-watchdog with its associated “burden and costs,” say notes obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The Trudeau government plans to usher in a national security committee of parliamentarians, whose members would have access to classified records.

It is also studying gaps in the current web of watchdogs that monitor intelligence services to ensure a comprehensive system is in place.

Existing review bodies cannot look at issues beyond their specific agency of focus, and have “limited authority” to collaborate with one another, say briefing notes prepared for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

It means the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, which oversees the RCMP’s national security activities, might be barred from exchanging notes on an alleged scandal with the watchdog that keeps an eye on the Communications Security Establishment.

The Liberals are looking at fostering such co-operation — known as inter-agency review — because many watchdog investigations involve a need to scrutinize the actions of more than one outfit.

While the Mounties support national security accountability, inter-agency review “presents the RCMP with some challenges,” say briefing notes drafted for Deputy Commissioner Mike Cabana’s appearance at a Senate committee last year.

If a review involved an ongoing criminal investigation, the Mounties would be concerned about its potential impact on evidence destined for a court proceeding, say the notes.

“The RCMP would want to prevent operational interference and disclosure of information before the conclusion of an investigation. In addition, review of an active criminal investigation could bring reviewers into the chain of evidence, and might necessitate disclosure at trial or even being called to give testimony.”

Justice Dennis O’Connor, who probed the Maher Arar torture affair, recommended changes to allow national security watchdogs to exchange information and conduct joint investigations. He also advocated a co-ordinating committee that would include various security watchdog chairs to ensure seamless handling of complaints and probes.

The watchdog who monitors the Communications Security Establishment has called for legislative changes to encourage and authorize more co-operation between his office and the watchdog that oversees the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Talking-point notes prepared for CSE chief Greta Bossenmaier’s use last year at a Senate committee say that “changes to our review regime are ultimately a policy question and it would not be appropriate for me to comment.”

“I would note, however, that before moving to a ‘super-bureaucracy’ — with its associated burden and costs — existing review bodies should be optimized and their collaboration should be further facilitated.”

The notes prepared in November for Goodale point out that some departments and agencies involved in national security activities lack external review. The most “noticeable omission” is the Canada Border Services Agency, which has a “high number of public complaints that are currently triaged by internal mechanisms,” the briefing materials say.

Other federal agencies that have security responsibilities but no external review bodies are Global Affairs Canada, National Defence, the Privy Council Office, Public Safety Canada, and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the notes add.

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

Just Posted

According to the city, trees are the main solution to improving urban canopy cover in downtown areas.
Tree care focus of free webinar

Red Deer and Lacombe Counties hosting March 11 webinar

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

EDMONTON — Alberta’s COVID-19-era budget made a hard landing Thursday with an… Continue reading

The expansion of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre has been discussed for over a decade. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital expansion gets about $6 million in 2021 provincial budget

According to the government’s three-year plan, the project will get $59 million by 2024.

The Town of Sylvan Lake has launched a new contest to attract a new business. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake offering rent-free storefront space to lure new businesses

Winning business proposal will get a storefront space rent-free for a year

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano tries to help goaltender David Rittich stop a shot from Ottawa Senators right wing Drake Batherson during first-period NHL action Thursday, February 25, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Colin White scores two goals to lead Ottawa Senators to a 6-1 win over Calgary Flames

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Art McDonald is seen during an interview with The Canadian Press in Ottawa, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Military reeling as new defence chief steps aside amid allegations of misconduct

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

‘Black box’ in Woods SUV could yield clues to cause of wreck

Team Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson reacts to her shot against Team Quebec at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

Peterson’s wild-card team edges N.W.T. skip Galusha to qualify for championship pool

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

No-size-fits-all residence approach a reality for Canadian Hockey League teams

FILE - New York Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist reacts after a save during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in New York, in this Sunday, March 1, 2020, file photo. The Flyers defeated the Rangers 5-3. Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist will sit out the upcoming NHL season because of a heart condition, announcing the news a little more than two months after joining the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist posted a written statement and a videotaped one on social media Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, saying it was a "pretty tough and emotional day." The 38-year-old from Sweden was bought out by the New York Rangers after 15 seasons and signed a $1.5 million, one-year deal with Washington in October. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Lundqvist back on ice, ‘months’ away from deciding future

Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa holds up water collected from Neskantaga First Nation, where residents were evacuated over tainted water in October, during a rally at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Feds didn’t supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

Most Read