CSIS still trumps the RCMP for national security – Our security intelligence agency looks to the future; our national police force is mired in the past
By Ron Atkey
There could not have been a starker contrast between the visions of our security intelligence agency and our national police force, described by Wesley Wark in The Globe and Mail last week (Post-9/11 Fatigue Sets In – Nov. 23). Surprisingly, Mr. Wark ignores history by throwing in his lot with the RCMP and dissing CSIS.
There are four fundamental points:
(1) preventing terrorism through good security intelligence is preferable to relying on criminal prosecutions after the event;
(2) almost every time the RCMP gets into serious trouble, it is over its activities in the security intelligence field;
(3) CSIS was created by Parliament 25 years ago as a separate civilian body as a result of botched work by the RCMP in the 1970s;
(4) CSIS operates under law with full accountability, while the RCMP still does not have full accountability.
Virtually everyone agrees on the need for national security in this age of international and domestic terrorist threats. Human rights have been given new meaning by our courts and various commissions of inquiry, extending the notions of fairness and freedoms not only to individuals but to society as a whole. Security is a human right, as the new CSIS director, Richard Fadden, has noted. Canadians yearn for both civil liberties and security, and have a right to both.
But then the discussion gets murky. Mr. Wark criticizes Mr. Fadden for not being as transparent and open to dialogue as former CSIS chiefs. But that’s exactly what Mr. Fadden did in his first public outing on Oct. 29, when he candidly described the turbulent legal environment in which CSIS finds itself. He set forth the underlying assumptions of the original CSIS Act of 1984: CSIS would be separate from the police and would not collect evidence; to protect privacy, information would only be retained if strictly necessary; and CSIS agents would rarely appear in court.
With all the criminal cases, commissions of inquiry, resulting civil litigation, immigration cases and specialized review bodies requiring CSIS’s attention these days, it was refreshing that Mr. Fadden would publicly discuss the impact of recent judicial rulings regarding retention of information in the context of the legislative mandate given to it by Parliament. Whether one agrees with him, he certainly was transparent and open to dialogue.
On the issue of disclosure, he was equally forthright: CSIS has worked hard to compromise but, in the Charkaoui security certificate case, was pushed to withdrawing information that caused the case to collapse rather than providing would-be terrorists a virtual road map to tradecraft and sources. And he acknowledged government support for this decision. No cover-up here.
Ron Atkey is a security law specialist who teaches at Osgoode Hall and the University of Western Ontario. He served as chair of the Security Intelligence Review Committee from 1984 to 1989.
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