Spy agency rule book revisions secret – Human rights activists worry about accountability – By JIM BRONSKILL
By JIM BRONSKIL
OTTAWA — The Canadian Press, Thursday, May. 21, 2009
The federal government has laid down new rules for Canada’s spy agency following high-profile scandals in which Canadians were tortured overseas.
The ministerial directions to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service also come as the agency takes on more foreign operations in hot spots like Afghanistan.
But human rights activists say so much of the classified instructions remain under wraps that it is impossible to tell whether they will lead to greater accountability.
The latest directions — essentially a government-penned rulebook for CSIS — cover fundamental principles, human sources, operational activities outside Canada and domestic and foreign liaison arrangements.
Heavily censored copies of the guidelines, issued to the spy service last year, were recently obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Much of the language mirrors past directions but large portions remain secret due to provisions of the Access Act that allow the government to conceal information concerning international affairs, investigations and advice from officials.
A direction outlining the government’s “intelligence priorities” for 2008-09 was completely withheld from release — even though such task lists have been disclosed in the past, broadly covering CSIS efforts in areas such as counter-terrorism, security screening and deterring creation of weapons of mass destruction.
The deletions make it impossible to pinpoint changes to the CSIS rulebook of ministerial directions following two hard-hitting commissions of inquiry into the role of Canadian officials in the cases of Arab-Canadians tortured in Syrian prisons.
Hilary Homes, security and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, said she cannot tell whether the new rules are an improvement.
“The challenge with these documents is, you just don’t know.”
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