Border agency enlisting informants, prompts internal review

Canada’s border agency is enlisting confidential informants, prompting internal concerns about privacy and the risk to sensitive institutions such as churches, schools and Parliament, newly disclosed documents show.

OTTAWA — Canada’s border agency is enlisting confidential informants, prompting internal concerns about privacy and the risk to sensitive institutions such as churches, schools and Parliament, newly disclosed documents show.

The Canada Border Services Agency uses confidential human sources willing to provide valuable details about the suspicious movement of people or goods, say briefing notes prepared by the agency for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney.

Following a positive initial evaluation, an informant receives an assurance of confidentiality from a certified Confidential Human Source officer and is registered within the border agency as a “CHS program participant,” say the notes, obtained by The Canadian Press.

An intelligence expert and an opposition MP said Wednesday the program is problematic because the border agency doesn’t have a dedicated watchdog like the ones that oversee the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

“It’s not clear how the minister could actually exercise proper supervision,” said Randall Garrison, the NDP public safety critic.

The notes, portions of which remain secret, say border agency intelligence officers, investigators and inland enforcement officers engage in “covert surveillance” of suspects.

While informants and covert surveillance are widely accepted investigative techniques, they have the potential to touch on privacy interests as well as fundamental institutions “including political, religious, post-secondary and media establishments,” the briefing notes warn.

Border agency studies conducted in 2012 led to proposed policy changes “to directly address these risks,” the documents add.

The border agency planned to clarify management oversight, approval, auditing and reporting for the human source program, as well as introduce “better risk management.”

Concerning covert surveillance, the agency planned to “implement clear restrictions on operations that may be more privacy intrusive.”

Border agency spokeswoman Patrizia Giolti could not immediately comment on the status of the proposals.

Wesley Wark, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa, said the agency should not be running a human source program on its own given the delicate nature of such activities.

The resources should be used to assess intelligence collected by partners like the RCMP and CSIS and apply it to border agency files, he suggested.

“CBSA should be an intelligence user, not an intelligence collector. It has long been recognized that CBSA could be doing a better job at intelligence analysis and dissemination of intelligence to its front-line officers,” Wark said.

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