CSIS defies orders on torture – Spy agency says it uses intelligence extracted that way ‘if lives are at stake,’ despite federal ban
OTTAWA – In stunning testimony that flatly contradicts stated Conservative government policy, a senior CSIS official admitted the spy agency still uses information that might have been obtained by torture in national security investigations “if lives are at stake.”
Geoffrey O’Brian, a lawyer and CSIS adviser on operations and legislation, told the Commons public safety committee there is no absolute ban on using intelligence that may have been obtained from countries with sketchy human rights records on torture.
“Do we use information that comes from torture? The answer is we only do so if lives are at stake,” O’Brian said.
The admission appeared to fly in the face of clear recommendations from Justice Dennis O’Connor in the Maher Arar inquiry against receiving or distributing information when there is “a credible risk” it stemmed from torture.
It also contradicted assertions by the Conservative government, which has long argued the practices that led to the detention and torture of four Canadian citizens – which were condemned in two public inquiries – happened under the previous Liberal government. The Conservatives insist policies under its watch have changed.
The office of Peter Van Loan, minister of public safety, moved to clarify the Conservative government’s policy late in the day by email: “The Government of Canada does not condone torture. Period.”
O’Brian said there are “unusual” and “almost once-in-a-lifetime situations” where information obtained through torture “can be of value to the national security of the country.”
He argued the executive branch is “bound” to protect the security of its citizens, even if such information can “never” be used in a court proceeding.
“The simple truth is, if we get information which can prevent something like the Air India bombing, the Twin Towers – whatever, frankly – that is the time when we will use it despite the provenance of that information,” he said.
In contrast, the RCMP told MPs it considers intelligence extracted through torture to be automatically “unreliable”.
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